The Daughter of Terra

A Ranma/Sailor Moon story chronicling possible events after "Lines of Destiny"

"Lines of Destiny" situational copyright Louis-Philippe Giroux.

"Destiny's Intersection" situational copyright Louis-Philipe Giroux and 'Shareon'.

Louis-Philippe Giroux (Author of "Lines of Destiny"), 'Shareon' (Author of "Lines of Destiny: Destiny's intersection" s/8018537/1/Lines-of-Destiny-Destiny-s-Intersection ), and Konsaki, (Author of "Fated Pasts, Chaotic Future" s/4346903/1/Fated-Pasts-Chaotic-Future ) all said it would be okay to write this.

Ranma 1/2 is property of Rumiko Takahashi. Publication Rights are held by Viz in The US and Shogakukan in Japan. Sailor Moon is property of Naoko Takeuchi. Publication rights held by Kodansha Ltd. in Japan and Mixx Entertainment in the US. My purpose is to honor these creators and their works. No infringement intended.

Chapter 2: Many Meetings

As with the previous days, Ranma awoke to the smell of breakfast. Opening his eyes, the now-familiar ceiling of the apartment he shared with his wife came into view. A glance to the clock said five fifty seven.

All of Akana's memories still cluttered up his mind, even now. It was incredibly confusing.

At the center of it all was Akane and his wife's life as Kanma. Though the time of their Silver Millennium 'engagement' was measured in hours she, Akana, had been touched more deeply by Kanma than any other man she'd met. Heck, the same had happened when she was Ranma, back in the dojo years ago.

She'd finally found a friend, after all those years. Then Akane had almost destroyed it with a single slap. How many of Akane's problems were due to her own past as a guy?

Now Akane was a foundation of his life as Ranma. Like he hoped he was for her. After last night he was certain there were three more people who wanted to help both Akane and himself get themselves back together; people who cared about him and Akane without conditions or signed pacts. Haruka, Michiru and Hotaru had offered help. Not just because it was the right thing to do, but because they cared. Real caring, just because, was a new experience for him. And that had started with Akane. They had fallen in love despite the engagement.

And to think, he'd been angry about Hotaru and Akane's relationship as reincarnated siblings; not to mention his similar relationship with Mamoru. But, did their love come with strings attached too?

Maybe the anger had been fueled more by fear than anything else. He still was concerned about what the future held for himself and Akane, but knew Akane was close at his side and the others had their backs.

It was hard to dismiss the unfamiliar feeling of persistent fear.

Akane's smiling face appeared amidst his musings, "Good morning, sleepyhead." Her smile darkened with concern as she continued. "How do you feel this morning, Ranma? I know you've had a rough couple of days."

Ranma raised his left forearm and tilted his palm in a forced gesture of nonchalance. "Pretty good, I guess 'kane. Knowing you and your umm Silver Millennium family, Hotaru and her folks, are there for us helped me a lot. Especially what Hotrau-chan said, to be honest." He closed his eyes as he continued, "I'm sorr, umm, I really shouldn't have taken my fears for myself out on you, and Hotaru-chan. Now I know that all you and her wanted to do is help each other deal with being so different from what you were back then. 'Course you and me lots more than her."

Akane kissed Ranma gently on the cheek, "No worries. That's in our past. Like those lives are, now. I've got to deal with Kanma's legacy." She smiled a little as she continued. "I'm excited about some of the techniques I'll learn. But, I'm also a little scared. Opening that book brought me more of Kanma's soul, I'm sure of it. Though the spells will make me more like him, I hope there's not too much more of him."

Ranma scrunched up his lips as he shook his head knowingly. His lips finally relaxed before he spoke. "Yeah. Since I've already got all of Akana inside my head I understand, Akane. There's a price for our new techniques, sure. But they're also a gift from before. Like, umm you, I just don't wanna lose myself here."

Akane nodded, "Uh huh, I want to stay me too. Just like you." She shrugged her shoulders and looked down for a second before recapturing her husband's gaze. "All this stuff's just something I never counted on."

Ranma nodded.

Akane shrugged again as she changed the conversation, "Let's eat before the soup gets icy." A disappointed frown creased her forehead, "It's already getting cold." She swallowed before continuing. "I really don't trust myself zapping it in the microwave."

"Sounds good, " Ranma responded as he hopped out of bed. After five seconds of 'Martial Arts Dressing' Ranma shrugged, "I'm sure, even cold, it's lots better than I've had on the road. In fact, with you taking care a'meals, we've eaten pretty well. Thanks, Akane."

An embarrassed smile graced Akane's face as she replied, "Sorry I can't cook it for us..."

Ranma raised both palms skyward as he spoke. "But we eat okay, and you keep a tight budget by shoppin' for cheap but decent take out stuff. So, you pass the 'put food on the table test' easy. And nobody gets sick from just eatin' anymore."

Anger tried to flare on Akane's face, "Well, I'm," She looked down, "I, I'd like to cook for us."

Ranma shook his head, "Don't worry Akane. You don't gotta be Kasumi." He smiled and almost laughed, "And to think, when we were nine, you called me too much of a boy!" Ranma clamped his mouth shut.

Akane stepped back a pace and the contents of the pitcher on the table ended up square in her husband's face. A few seconds later, Akane's right hand came around with a furious slap. "And what do you have to say for yourself, 'Ranko'? You! You, perrr..." Even as her old pejorative died in silence, Akane set the pitcher on the table. She blew out an angry breath and pivoted a half circle. A few hurried steps carried her through the door. With an arm, she kept her face hidden from her husband. Akane slammed the door behind herself.

Having been sentenced to femininity by her wife, Ranma decided to stay that way until Akane changed her back. She morosely ate every last bit of the breakfast. It was tepid, tasty, and not terrible.

Which was way better than she felt.

The redhead needed to talk to someone. There was a little rolodex by the phone. It was a cheap, but useful, wedding gift from Nabiki. It looked fairly nice, once you ignored that the rich wood was a cheap appliqué and the the silver parts were plastic instead of metal but... it would hopefully serve its purpose now that it was needed.

Ranma set the little arrow to 'chi' and pushed the button to pop the index open on that card. At the top of the list, the only entry in 'chi' actually, was Mamoru Chiba. She smiled as she dialed the number. And thanked Nabiki, in absentia, for one of the few times in her life.

"Hello?" Came the man's voice on the other end.

"Hello, Chiba, Mamoru-san. It's Ranma." Ranma replied.

"Any reason you're, umm, a girl?" A genuinely puzzled Mamoru asked.

"Yeah, sorta. I'll fill ya in when, err if, ya can come over here." Ranma promised, hoping for a visit.

Mamoru mentally ran through his morning checklist. It was Saturday, so until lunch with Usagi after her school, things were pretty free. "Well sure. Give me thirty and I'll be by. How's that sound little, umm, sister?" He was finally starting to realize he might be able to love the sound of that simple phrase.

Ranma forced herself to smile a little, "That would be gr-okay. Thanks. See you."

"Any time. Bye," Mamoru concluded. He was thoughtful as he put the phone down, because he was still not completely used to anyone of importance besides Usako in his life. Nonetheless he relished the prospect.

Ranma checked the referral card Setsuna had given her. She needed to call Doctor Asari. The stress of the current situation was tearing Ranma and Akane's marriage apart. Admitting she needed help wasn't something she was used to. The fight at the mall showed she needed help sometimes. With a tiny sigh, she dialed the number on the phone.

(((())))

Akane pushed the button by the door at Hotaru's. She glanced down at the white, long sleeved blouse she had put on this morning. Both sleeves were damp and gray with tears she had wiped off her face.

She'd screwed up bigtime. But it was so hard for her, couldn't he see that? Struggling with confusing feelings toward Ranma, in both forms. Finally, Akane could honestly say she loved him now whether she, or he, was male or female. However, bringing up her past gender like he had, Ranma had just added fuel to a long burning fire. And Akane exploded like she hadn't in a while. She couldn't do this anymore, because Ranma needed her now too.

The door opened, pulling Akane from her musings.

"Hey, Akane, good morning." Haruka groggily offered. "Come on in." Moving away from the door to allow entry, she turned, and continued at a little louder volume, "Hotaru-chan. Akane-san's here!"

"Good morn-" Hotartu swallowed her greeting when she saw the tears dried on Akane's face and still fresh on Akane's blouse sleeves. "You and Ranma-ch, san okay, big sister?" Hotaru asked, clearly concerned.

Michiru followed Hotaru closely, "Good morning, Akane-san!" she cheerfully added. Michiru's smile drooped a bit when she saw Akane.

Akane shook her head 'no' as she walked into the apartment. "We've been better. And a whole lot worse. But, this time I was the dummy. Ranma, he was just being Ranma. Probably thought he was making a joke."

Now that Akane was fully in the entranceway, Haruka shut the door behind them. She turned to Akane, who was slipping off her shoes. "Okay, Akane-san, What happened, exactly?"

"Just a sec," Akane said as she stood and moved into the main room. All four people were adjacent, three facing the forth, as Akane explained Ranma's insult.

Haruka started to smirk.

"Guess you're lucky I don't bite too, eh Haru-chan?" Michiru jabbed, wiping the proto-smirk off her partner's face.

Turning to Akane, Haruka shrugged. "I bet he was just playin' with you, Akane-san."

Akane stopped for a minute. Three pairs of eyes were on her as she continued, "So I threw water on him and said something like 'you should talk, Ranko'. Then I slapped her and slammed the door behind me."

The midnight blue haired girl looked down as she continued, "I hid my face as I left. I was already crying because I knew I was, was, w-rong to do that."

Haruka grimaced, "You're not kidding Akane. I realize you two had a rough time growing up, so your marriage may seem a little difficult. But there's one simple rule in any relationship. Spouses..."

Akane shook her head back and forth as she interrupted, "Don't hit each other. I know. But it's just so hard." Her nod stopped as she looked at Haruka and continued. "Don't get me wrong, I'm glad you want to talk about it. I'm just not sure how to follow your advice here."

Haruka smirked for a second, becoming more serious as she replied, "Well, try to laugh if you can. Or at least try to think of anything else, maybe?"

Michiru added, "Or, at least try to turn it into a joke. When Haruka does that, it reminds me of what I said. And things get a chance to cool down." Since she wasn't angry at her partner right then, she gave a slight smile.

Haruka shrugged, "It's still a joke. So treat it like one if you feel insulted again. He called you a guy right?" She thought for a moment before continuing. "Let Ranma know you feel what she said's a joke. Maybe just try to laugh or even fire something... umm... verbal... back at her. Heck, something like girls are different than boys, you know?"

Michiru brightened as she added, "And do it with a smile or a laugh. You might be able to defuse a bad situation."

"It's just so hard," Akane sighed. She wasn't even certain they really could understand her. At least they were earnestly trying to help. Continuing, she pasted on an unconvincing smile. "But thanks for talking about it. I'll try to think of what you said, if I can next time."

Michiru put a hand on the smaller woman's shoulder, "Relationships are tricky. But, if you can build a strong one, it's worth it."

Haruka added her thoughts, "It's also knowing somebody else's doing the same thing for you. They'll there for you... and your family's what makes it special. But it takes work."

Michiru nodded affirmatively, "And love helps a lot. Haruka and I are in our second lifetime together. You and Ranma have a chance for that too."

Hotaru gave her big sister a hug. "It'll be okay, big sister. You're a good person, I know you love Ranma." She looked up into Akane's eyes, her own purple ones twinkling, "I see it in your eyes when you talk about your adventures and all Ranma did for you. And what you did for her... him."

"Thanks, all of you." Akane said, her reply a bit muffled as she returned Hotaru-chan's hug.

A few minutes later, the younger trio were dressed in their uniforms, ready for their half-day of school. Two in seifuku and Haruka in a boy's version that perfectly complemented Michiru's.

Michiru turned to her guest, "You're welcome to stay, Akane-san. If you want, you can help us finish packing for today's trip. I doubt you'll see Setsuna." The aqua haired woman shrugged as she continued. "We haven't seen her since she went to work yesterday."

"Be sure to lock the door behind you if you go," Haruka added.

The three of them left Akane. Ranma had the card from Setsuna, Akane hoped he would use it. She had other things to talk to the doctor about, it was about time.

(((())))

Ranma heard a knock at the apartment door. She walked to the peephole to verify it was her brother. Opening the door, she greeted her reincarnated sibling, taking pains not to be visible through the portal, "Glad you could come, Mamoru-san."

"Thanks," Mamoru replied, entering the doorway.

Ranma closed it behind them.

Mamoru turned to his sister's reincarnation, "Why a girl?"

Ranma shrugged, "Figured since Akane got mad an' made me a girl, I should let her change me back."

Mamoru weighed what to say, "Okay... I guess," being what he finally came up with. He turned to his reborn sister, asking, "So what, exactly, happened?"

Ranma measured her own response carefully. Gratitude for Mamoru's support two days earlier came on strong. Less forceful were lingering impressions of Tuxedo Kamen as not the reincarnation of Endi. But as a second coming of Tatewaki Kunou. Respect for the brother who was there for her when nobody else could be easily won that competition. "Sorry, Mamoru-san. I was just trying to..."

Mamoru mirrored his sibling's smirk, "Decide whether I was the guy you hated two days ago or the one who was there when you needed him? So how do you see me after all that?"

Flushed with embarrassment, Ranma shook her head 'no'. "I guess I can't hide anything from you, can I?"

"Maybe not little sis, brother. In my, our past life I learned to read you almost as well as words." Mamoru replied with a somewhat forced smile. Hoping he hadn't shot himself in the foot with his slip.

Sister. The blush drained from her face. Ranma thought about what her brother had almost said. She wasn't a girl. But she was, right now, as she had been for all of their past life together. So it was natural for him to call her that, especially in public. And now, knowing the truth, Mamoru obviously cared for her feelings on the matter. "Okay, so tell me what I thought this time." Ranma demanded after thinking it through.

Mamoru shrugged, "I'm actually not sure. But you probably started out upset by the slip I almost made."

Ranma shook her head 'yes', "Yeah, I did. It wasn't almost, you know. But then I thought and realized that though I've been a guy since I was born."

Noticing Mamoru about to interject, she raised a finger, "This life. I finally... I understood how weird it looks, or would look, for ya t' call me brother when I'm a girl. Or sister when I'm a guy. So when I'm a girl, or Terra, it's natural for you to call me sister."

"Yes but, that might not always be a good idea." Her brother interjected.

An old peeve about her big brother's need to interrupt flashed across Ranma's mind. With a swallow she continued, curtly nodding concurrence. "Yeah, just call me Terra when I'm Terra. Anyways, I understand where you're coming from. And it's okay. Really. I'm used to a lot of other people calling me a girl. And with you, it actually means something. A lot, actually." She wondered if the warmth she felt was a flush on her face.

Mamoru smiled at his reborn sister, whose blush brought more memories back. "Sorry for how I acted, Ranma. I never ever meant to hurt you." He looked up, seeing a curt nod of acceptance, before continuing. "I don't want to throw your new life's gender in the trash, either. Neither does Usagi. She's... we're really concerned about you and Akane. And you're still paying for the price of your past lives together. We were all so blind." As he concluded, he felt compelled to look down.

Ranma put her right hand on her reincarnated brother's shoulder, pleased she was able to summon his eyes to her own. Mamoru seeing her was important right now. "Yeah, but you just went with what looked right. I mean, would anybody who doesn't know really think I'm a guy?" Ranma asked while that right index finger pointed to her chest. "And me tryin' to pick up th' ol' Ranko game again was really really dumb. I started the fire, but I couldn't take the heat. And blamed you guys for it. So I'm, I'm sorry too."

Mamoru composed himself, "Saying that's as tough as in the old days, I bet. Anyway, thanks Ranma. And I understand. You have a really difficult problem to deal with." He paused for a moment in thought. He realized apologies didn't come easily for Ranma. Akana hadn't handed them out freely either. So much the same, yet so different. "Okay, so what happened, Little, umm, sister?" He asked experimentally.

Ranma looked a little perturbed. Thinking it through, her face became composed again. Nodding acknowledgment and acceptance, the redhead resumed her tale. "Anyways, Akane was defending her cooking again. Things got a little heated. I umm, sorta taunted her about how he'd called me a guy, back when we were nine."

Mamouru interrupted again, "Think for just a minute here. Doesn't this sound familiar? I was usually in the other room, but I seem to remember a Princess constantly defending her cooking. I never really understood why she felt she needed to."

Ranma's face reddened. Her lips formed a wistful smile before she replied. "Yeah, I remember her too." Her eyes became unfocused as she considered her past life's similarities to Akane's present.

Mamoru nodded. "I bet that, in your marriage, the husband's a better cook than the wife." He chuckled lightly before continuing, "Just like when I marry my Usako."

Pulled back to the here and now, Ranma nodded before continuing, "Yeah. Anyway, it was just supposed to be a joke. She, she threw cold water on me, then slapped me and ran out the door. Probably went to Hotaru's after that." She looked down as she continued. "You know, sometimes I wonder if we were really made to marry anybody. 'Cause the two of us're so screwed up."

Mamoru shook his head 'no', "Don't even think that, little brother. And I'll always try to call you that, I promise. At least when I can. You know there are sometimes..."

Ranma curtly nodded understanding. "I think we already agreed, you can call me, umm sister. If you gotta." Despite accepting her brother and past, it was hard just to say that little word 'sister'. Spitting it out was still easiest. "And I know you know and you know I know and whatever." Her attempted smile just reinforced the sour expression.

Mamoru tried to put on a concerned, understanding face. "Anyway, who else but Akane could really understand you, and who else but you could really understand her? Plus, you two have the rare chance Usagi, Haruka, Michiru, and myself all share. To love the same soul you did in the Silver Millennium."

Ranma shrugged, then started to perk up a bit more. "I can't ever forget Akane's life as Kanma and how much he meant to me over the years I was..." Her expression hardened again. "Akana was trapped in that spring."

She closed her eyes; the present was a much nicer place to be. Looking up to her brother, she continued. "Gotta hand it to ya, Mamoru-san I'm really glad I called ya up. So what do I do now, big bro'? How can I at least try to patch stuff up with Akane? It's hard when my stupid words hurt somebody I love. And making her hurt me makes it worse."

Mamoru responded with almost a evil grin, "Well, I know something that's romantic and almost guaranteed to work. C'mon, I'll tell you on the way. And I'm paying, so no backing out of it."

Mamoru and his little sister, at least in current form, went to see what they could do to help Ranma and Akane's relationship.

(((())))

Almost done. The three packs were side by side. Two were adult sized and the third was much smaller, just containing a spare jacket and change of clothes for Hotaru. They were completely ready, except for the food. Not only was she reluctant to even touch their meals, but they were still in the fridge.

There was a knock at the door. Akane turned, padding over to the peephole. A glance out revealed a young man holding a vase with a couple of roses in it.

Akane hadn't dwelled on the state of her marriage while packing. But that vase brought it front and center again. But why would the idiot? He probably had help. Like she did when she was still angry and guilty. She opened the door.

"Hello, Akane Saotome?" The young man asked.

"Yes. Are those for me?" She said, finding it impossible not to put on her most radiant smile.

"Yes, ma'm," He replied, offering her the vase. "You're lucky to have such a beautiful girlfriend. But then, she's got pretty good taste too."

"Um... thanks?" Akane replied, blushing madly.

The young man bowed once then went to continue his deliveries.

Recently closed door at her back, Akane's smiled had dimmed, but it was nowhere near quenched. The vase nurtured three beautiful roses, one black, one dark blue, and one red. It was an interesting representation of their relationship; or at least their hair colors when women or male. That in mind, Ranma's wife claimed a dark blue rose as her surrogate. Thought brought realization that Mamoru had, probably, prodded Ranma do this. Maybe he even helped Ranma to buy the flowers. The three roses were Ranma's personal touch. So, maybe her husband could learn.

Especially if Akane thanked him?

They could do so much with their marriage - a lot more than they had imagined at the ceremony just a few days ago. Both of them were different now, because of the unexpected memories they shared. Rediscovered friends and relatives were already helping the young pair navigate the rough seas of change.

Together, they could do this. But 'they' would be more than two. That was a complication for both Akane and Ranma. Going it alone had been the norm before. Akane wanted to smile on her own, but it didn't come easy for her. Somehow, though, when she glimpsed the flowers, she couldn't help but grin.

(((())))

In a small apartment much closer to the university campus, a student worked on editing what she hoped would be the term project for her videography class. Her lab partner, Mariko, was visiting her (hopefully) new boyfriend at the hospital today, so she was forging ahead solo.

She'd been on teams before, though always as empress to vassals. Never as a peer. But collegiality seemed part of college. She and Mari-chan had collaborated a lot in the last year. Sharing with and trusting someone else had first helped her glimpse a world she had walled off eleven years before.

In one corner of the small studio, a trash can was filled with neatly folded fast food bags, mostly from M Burgers. A futon was in the corner opposite the trash can. Against the wall next to the bed was a tabletop video editing station with two VCRs. The young woman worked jog wheels as she ran and reran video they'd gathered at the mall during the demon attack.

The editor had short brown hair that complemented her white blouse and pale blue shorts and socks. Engrossed in study of the small video monitor, she traveled near and far on the tape. She played it again and again, scanning for new clues each trip. Her... their fledgling careers as Senshi chasers had taken a really strange turn the first time out. And it just got weirder the more she examined the footage.

The video was really grainy after the mall's emergency lights came on. Focus was always off for any Sailor Senshi in pictures. But she'd expected that haziness, they were magically difficult to photograph. Despite image quality, the camerawoman was sure their two camcorders had caught the new Senshi, Sailor Terra and Saturn Knight.

The first recording this term also captured a remarkable tour de force as the new Sailor, Terra, kept crawling from death's door to punish her adversary again and again. Finally, after superhuman effort, the magic warrior collapsed in a pool of gore. By then, Pluto easily dispatched Terra's similarly bloodied opponent.

Transcription of the spotty audio had added an unexpected layer of personalization. The battle was horrific on its own, but was just news. What the Senshi actually said made it incredibly personal, and dredged up a wealth of guilt.

Especially Saturn Knight's tearful concern for Sailor Terra, her curse, and lost cure. Not to mention calling Terra husband. She was sure Terra had a wild mane of red hair and Saturn Knight short dark blue hair. But it was nigh impossible to make a positive ID on video alone. Even without the 'Senshi blur' it was still hard to trust her heart in such matters, but she was working on it. Trying to use more than cold calculation alone. Twelve years had diminished the pain of Mother's death. To face an adult's life and choices, she had to use all the tools available. Some might cause pain, but her twentieth birthday loomed.

She stopped for a moment, looking at a still frame again. With just a little bit of imagination, she could almost see her little sister and brother in-law in that armor and fuku. There was still evidence that pointed against that conclusion. Like why the heck did Tuxedo Kamen call Terra his sister? And those two as Sailor Senshi, really? She swallowed a laugh. Really? But her brother in law did like to show off when he was a girl. And how much different was Terra's uniform from... She smiled as memories of the first time she'd run into Mariko brought thoughts full circle.

Nabiki had decided to go to Mizuharo University to explore photography and business with a dual major. Akane and Ranma had just followed her. Then, somehow those two had landed in the midst of Juuban's legendary schoolgirl vigilantes. But she didn't need to share her speculation with them. That would be telling.

(((())))

It was Saturday, so the world's busiest train station was a little less busy. Maybe there would be fewer than four million passengers passing through today. Gray tile floors, pillars, and walls contrasted with color coding on overhead signs. Back in Nerima, the city's immensity was harder to grasp. Here, Tokyo's sheer size was front and center.

A progressively more concerned Akane waited for her husband amongst the waves of humanity loosed by successive trains on the line from Azabu-Juuban station. Her reincarnated sister was to the left and Michiru and Haruka stood behind them. Of all the places to transfer, Shinjuku station.

Akane stood firm against the human tide of foot traffic. Eventually she saw Mamoru, flanked by her (currently) red headed, female husband. Two blonde odango occasionally popped up to show that the Princess was coming too. Akane lifted her right hand in a vigorous wave.

"You see them, big sister?" Akane's little sister Hotaru asked.

"Yeah," Akane responded. She turned her head slightly so Ranma would be sure to see the three flowers she had clipped and placed over her ear.

"I see Akane, " Ranma told her big brother.

"So do I, Ranma" He replied. Mamoru had decided 'Ranma' would leave the gender issue on the table. Ranma's name fit well, no matter what gender.

Ranma reached out and grabbed Akane's hand. "Hey Akane!" She blurted out.

Just a minute more and the next train opened its doors at the temporary end of the line, disgorging passengers. The six girls and one man pushed their way in. Ranma, Haruka, and Mamoru were able to stand adjacent to a long, couch-like seat, each next to his or her partner. An elderly couple sat next to Usagi, smiling at the collection of pretty young women and their handsome male friend packed for a weekend in the mountains.

Ranma looked down at Akane, who looked up at her. "Sorry..." she offered her wife.

Akane nodded, "Me too."

Ranma offered her right hand, grasping the standing room handle with her left.

Akane took her husband's hand and smiled. Since speech really wasn't available right then, eyes and faces were a nice substitute for a few stops.

Ranma grabbed an errant hand behind her while pirouetting to face a lot taller and larger man. "Okay, bud! Keep yer paws t' yourself!" Ranma yelled up into his face.

The surprised man bowed twice, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. The train was crowded and I..."

The train slowed, approaching the next stop. Ranma lowered her voice to a firm, conversational tone. "Thought you could steal a feel, huh? Well, maybe you just get off this train and try to be nicer on the next one, 'kay?"

The flustered man took the defensive, "But I didn't do anything, Miss. And this isn't my stop."

Ranma shook her head, gaze narrowing. "Only 'cuz I stopped ya. And... I think you're mistaken." Her grasp moved to his upper arm as the squeeze tightened. A broken arm really wouldn't do here. But, almost might be remembered. "Your stop is coming up, sir!" The suddenly cheerful girl remarked, a sweet lilt lighting her best 'free ice cream' voice. A cute smile blossomed on the young woman's face as she lifted the offender off his feet.

"Yes, yes." her captive replied, red face clearly showing both realization and no small fear.

As the train slowed, Ranma set her captive down, then released her grip. "There ya go, sir!" The redhead spat out out the last word, her bright speech and smile dissipated.

The man bowed, soon anonymous again amongst the exiting passengers. A small round of applause from women and girls in the immediate vicinity accompanied his exit.

A slightly embarrassed Ranma glanced down to her wife. Akane's beautiful smile was full of pride and love. The redhead answered with a sheepish grin and shrug. She felt the warm touch of her brother's proud approval through their link. A vigorous shoulder pat communicated Haruka's concurrence.

As the vehicle smoothly accelerated again, Ranma laid her right hand behind Akane's neck, gently massaging her wife's shoulder. Taking their own cues, Mamoru did the same for Usagi while Haruka patted Michiru's shoulder.

Contemplation and sensation continued in place of conversation for the three couples. Hotaru watched the sights flash by the window for the the rest of the short journey.

(((())))

A bus droned away after depositing seven passengers at a stop on the city's perimeter. After a couple hundred meters walk, the leader stopped. An incredibly faint path ran headlong into heavy forest. Ranma shook her head knowingly, "Yeah, this is it". She turned to address her wife and companions. "We just go through these trees here." She said as she began to bend and crawl through the dense woods.

"I sure like sidewalks better." Usagi commented from the rear of the group, firmly grasping her boyfriend's hand.

"I think it's fun so far," Hotaru added.

Two minutes later, they left the forest to look up a rocky slope.

Everyone brushed some leaves from their hair as Ranma pointed up. "Just gotta go over this little hill, and down the other side. It's easy here, just like walking up stairs a few dozen stories."

Usagi shook her head. "Oh man, now this? I mean this is what escalators and elevators are for, you know?"

Ranma couldn't keep from laughing, "Well, that would be fine if we could camp back at Shunjuku. Not that I'd ever wanna. But out here you gotta work at least a little." She finished, looking hopefully at Usagi. "Look, Princess. Me or Akane'll carry ya if you want. But it's a really easy walk, that's why I picked this place."

Michiru nodded and spoke to Haruka, "Nothing we haven't done together, right Hon?"

Haruka nodded curtly. "Yeah, gotta start somewhere Usagi." the tall blonde added in assent.

"If I'm going to do this, you can too Usagi-chan," Hotaru offered with wavering confidence, hoping to encourage her friend.

The short blonde clapped her hands together loudly as she came to a decision. A line of determination replaced her worried frown. "Okay, I can do this. We can do this."

Mamoru nodded, "That's right Usako."

The group headed uphill. Ranma led and Akane trailed to help the stragglers.

About twenty minutes later, they reached the top of the saddle.

Huffing and puffing, Usagi gasped a question, "We're camping down there, right?"

Ranma nodded, "Yeah, but we can rest here if you want."

Usagi shook her head no, "I just wanna get this over with but," she paused for a moment trying to encompass the group in her gaze. "I'm glad I was able to do this and be here with you guys today. Thanks."

Each person in the group wordlessly replied to their Princess before they all headed down the hill.

(((())))

Tents were set up and dinner was in the capable hands of Michiru, Haruka, and Hotaru. Ranma and Akane finally took the chance to find some time alone together.

Finding a large shady rock to share the view of the lake, Ranma spoke first, "I'm sorry, Akane. Really sorry."

"I'm sorry too. In fact we're both pretty sorry Ranma." Akane closed her eyes for a while before continuing, "It's just so hard. I really love you. Now more than I did, even when we were getting married."

Ranma thought back to a more elegant time, "I see you carry my favor, Lady Akane."

Akane blinked, then smiled. She took the three flowers out, separating the dark blue one from the others before returning the scarlet and black pair to its place above her right ear. With smirk, she looked up at her standing husband. "I claimed this as mine. And so I ask, will you carry it as my favor?"

Ranma bowed slightly, then freed a hand to accept the flower. "It'd be a umm, honor."

Akane smiled as Ranma put the dark blue rose over her left ear. She looked down, trying to array her thoughts. Looking up into Ranma's face again, she offered a faint smile before continuing, "It was really sweet of you to take the flower though." She paused for a moment as the mercurial grin flowed away quick as it had formed. "Why did you stay a girl today?"

Ranma shrugged, "I wanted you to undo it, 'cause you did it, made me a girl." Her face became serious as she continued, "But, you really can't get by with the slapping anymore, Akane. I know you're hurting, and it's hard. And I know you're really trying, so am I. And I also know you're getting better."

Akane looked thoughtful. "Yeah. Let's see if dinner's ready."

Ranma stood and offered Akane her hand. As she helped her wife up, she couldn't keep from adding, "And that's my line, Akane."

(((())))

After their meal that night, the group gathered around a campfire started from downed wood they had collected. Everyone had enjoyed the cold soba topped with dried seaweed. The great megalopolis was just over the ridge, too close for the night to be black, but more stars were visible than in Tokyo proper. Plus, there was a three quarter moon, with most of the rabbit visible.

The seven travelers sat in a circle around the burning logs. Ranma and Akane next to each other, Hotaru, Michiru, and Haruka in another group, with Usagi and Mamoru between Ranma and Haruka. All of them looked at the fire for a few minutes, enjoying the tranquility.

Ranma sighed contentedly, breaking the silence. "Good food tonight, you guys. And there was enough of it too."

Haruka shook her head affirmatively, "Yeah, I carried enough cold soba to feed a horse... a wild horse." She finished with a smile.

Everyone shared a laugh, and Ranma turned a little red, then pointed at Haruka with narrowed eyes and a somewhat playful grin. Then, he turned to look at Akane's little sister. "Nice night, though only one firefly's out. And purple insteada gold too."

It was water time. Hotaru stood and advanced upon Ranma, who took his punishment like a man. At least until the water hit.

Akane stared at Ranma's damp chest for several seconds, then smiled. "Why Ranma, you're wearing a bra? What brought that about?"

"So you're wearing one as a guy?" Haruka teasingly asked.

Ranma shrugged her shoulders, "Yeah, that way I don't give ya a show when I change, Haruka."

Michiru elbowed her partner.

Ranma had to smirk at the tall blonde's comeuppance as she continued, "Anyway, the Princess, here," she gestured to Usagi, as she had with Haruka, "said she needed to shop at the store."

By now, Mamoru was turning a sympathetic red.

"She started looking at sports bras. Pointing out to me how they didn't have flowers, lace or any a' that cutesy stuff on 'em. Course I was dumb enough to nod my head, and say yeah. So she turned to me and says, want one?" Ranma turned a bit red and closed her mouth.

Noticing her husband's attempt to stop the story at that point, Akane pulled the arm that had been wrapped partway around her husband's waist to cross with Akane's other arm beneath Akane's chest, "I bet that you didn't just say no, you said, Hell, no!"

"Ranma?" Usagi asked with a quizzical expression.

Rama waved her left hand, trying to dismiss the charge."Just go ahead and tell 'er Princess."

Usagi suppressed a giggle as she responded. "Nope, you gotta tell your wife. So~rry."

Ranma sighed, resigning herself to her doom "Yeah I did tell her that. Then... I sorta went off about why would I wanna wear any women's underwear and other stuff." She fell silent, for a bit.

Usagi was now visibly struggling not to laugh.

Ranma turned a bit red herself as she looked at Usagi, "Yeah. Laugh it up, Princess. Sheesh."

"Well, your problems didn't really start 'til you opened your mouth." Usagi replied with a smirk.

"Yeah, that's a pretty dumb thing to yell in the women's section of the store, let me tell ya. All these women started telling me why I was... well I didn't think girls used lots'a those words."

Usagi tried hard not to smile.

Ranma shrugged and continued. "So Usagi and Mamoru bought me some red ones and a white one and a black one."

Mamoru waved both palms in a warding gesture. "Don't drag me into this, little bro. All I did is give Usako the money."

The red-faced redhead crossed her own arms before continuing, "But I drew the line at stuff like pink and powder blue. You know, girly colors. But the amazing thing is, it actually feels okay. Better 'n bouncin' for sure."

Akane looked at Ranma through eyes pooled with tears, "Glad somebody could talk some sense into you, even if it wasn't me or my sisters." She wrapped her arms around her husband in an appreciative hug capped with a kiss on the cheek.

That kiss, and a round of applause made Ranma's face even redder.

Sorry for intruding here, Ranma, but I think I really understand your situation a lot better after today, Mamoru sent his brother's way.

Thanks, Ranma silently responded. I think the Princess is great and all, but I'm glad there's another guy in this sea a' girls.

So am I, little brother. So am I. Mamoru concluded, smiling at Ranma. He felt truly happy, for the first time this life, that Akana had been reincarnated a man.

Ranma returned her brother's grin with a smirk, never expecting to have masculinity reaffirmed today. Especially after all that had happened. He was sure glad to have a brother.

(((())))

Brilliant blue sky was reflected in a still azure lake. A few chalk white clouds and black peaks washed with green broke the chromatic congruence. An emerald carpeting of grasses prevailed on the lake shore. Two people danced back and forth across a clearing on that shore. Stopping frequently, the taller man was obviously instructing his feminine companion. Away from the lake, behind the two, a tent added bright red to the scene. Two other tents had been hauled away earlier in the day as their inhabitants returned to the city, and tomorrow's school.

Emerging from the evergreen copse surrounding the clearing, a woman stopped behind the tent. She wore a buttoned-up ivory blouse with a narrow black ribbon tied in a bow closing the neck. Dark red-brown women's jeans were tucked into a matching pair of pristine high topped sneakers. Seven coils of black hair curled down her back.

First zipping open a small backpack, the visitor extracted a bound notebook with a blue cloth cover. She then shrugged off the rucksack. The pack fell away and hit the ground, metallic clasps clanking to attract the young couple's attention.

Ranma had noticed the intruder earlier, but decided wary was better than ready, so he continued to instruct his wife. When Akane looked like she heard the pack hit the ground, the lesson abruptly ended.

The young couple turned in concert to face the interloper. Both assumed a casual stance, fully alert for whatever the encounter required.

Sensing the pair's wariness, concern flashed on the woman's brow for a second. Then she smiled weakly before opening the the notebook to withdraw an envelope. She slowly advanced to Akane, proffering the sealed missive. "I believe you called me yesterday, Mrs... Saotome?"

Akane looked puzzled, "Um, that's me, but I don't remember calling you." Shrugging, she ripped open the envelope, seeing a business card and letter. "Oh, Doctor Asari, Meiou-sensei's friend." Akane looked thoughtful, then shrugged, "Still, I didn't call you." Pausing for moment in thought, she perked up to continue, "I do remember seeing you leaving Meiou-sensei's office." She put on a smile, realizing this woman was the doctor Setsuna had promised.

The psychologist considered how to proceed. How to ask without asking? Well, Setsuna said there were some familial connections. "So... Have you ever been to Setsuna's house?" The psychologist asked her perspective patients.

"Yep, the two of us had a wonderful dinner there the night before last." Ranma was happy to reply, smiling at the memory.

"And, I hate to say it, but it was probably better because Setsuna wasn't there." Akane continued, glancing to see a her husband's nod of agreement.

The visiting doctor looked a bit concerned. Jerking a thumb toward Ranma, she asked Akane, "Saotome-san, does your husband know?"

Ranma held up his hand, "Let's just stop this pussy footin' around here." Continuing, he looked at their visitor, "I'm happy Akane and me get to talk to you 'stead of Setsnua. And I'm glad you know about the people Setsuna lives with, so some a what we're gonna tell ya's gonna be old news."

Ranma glanced for a second at Akane, who offered a curt nod and response, "Go on Ranma, thanks for getting us on track." She finished with an encouraging look.

"Thanks, Akane. So about Akane's husband knowin'... Yeah, I'll say he does. Anyways, I remember sein' ya too at Setsuna's office. And about that call yesterday, that was... uh, I called ya. I was a girl when I did."

The doctor's brow knit in puzzlement for a second before she shrugged, "Nothing Setsuna ever hands off to me is straightforward. So I guess I'm not too, surprised." She tried to school her features as she finished.

Ranma nodded, "Good to hear that, doc. 'cause this is gonna go off the tracks real quick here. Might as well start near the end, 'cause that'll make everything else easier. And, to be honest, that's where me and Akane came in. 'Least as me and Akane." Husband turned to wife, who was already walking up from the shore with a steel drinking cup full of lake water. He was smiling as she approached him. He'd never really had rapport like this with anyone before. It felt good.

"Thought you'd need this," Akane replied, handing her husband the cup.

"Read my mind, Akane." Ranma said as he took the metallic mug.

Akane looked thoughtful for a moment, then playful, "Not yet, but maybe when I get farther into my book... who knows?"

Holding the cup about chin high, Ranma turned back to their visitor, "I got a curse in China. I change forms when cold water hits me." Pouring the cup over his head, he took his female form. "So ya see, that's how I was a girl yesterday. So, like I said, I guess I - know. At least if Akane's a Sailor Senshi... which she sure as heck ain't."

Akane cried "Mjolnir!" to summon her staff. "I'm not a Sailor Senshi, my husband is. I'm a different type of Senshi."

All their observer could do was blink. She massaged her temples for a bit. It was really hard to become jaded with a colleague like Setsuna. "Well, I thought I'd seen..."

Akane smiled, "Everything? Not yet I guess. And, to be honest being Senshi may be the weirdest thing that happened to us."

Ranma picked up for her wife, "But the lead it's got's pretty small on the weirdness scale. 'Least for us. So, we'll tell you our story."

"Together," Akane concluded.

And they did.

(((())))

The sun was much lower in the sky by the time the Ranma and Akane finished. Emerald had darkened to forest green and azure lake waters edged toward black as the sun sank low on the horizon.

"So, whadaya think, doc?" Terra asked as the story finished. "Can you help us?" She asked before joining her wife as de-transformed.

Dr. Asari shook her head affirmatively, "I'm sure of it, but we probably should start individual sessions. That way each of you can really say what you feel. You won't need to worry about what your partner might think."

Ranma looked to her companion, "That okay with you?"

"Sure," Akane responded.

"When would you like me back?" She asked "Wednesday? I could come twice a week if that sounds good to you."

"That sounds good, to me." Ranma replied. She turned to her wife, "How 'bout you, Akane?"

Her wife nodded once, "Yeah. We'll see you then, okay? Maybe about the time you came today?" She walked over to the doctor offering to, then shaking her hand.

Ranma did likewise.

After a bow, their counselor turned and bent to retrieve her pack. She stood after zipping the notebook back in. While threading her arms through the straps, she turned to face her clients. With a slight bow, she pivoted and was soon lost amidst the evergreens.

"So whadaya think, Akane?" Ranma asked, breaking the silence after a minute or so.

Akane shrugged, then smiled. "I think this is going to work, Ranma. You?"

Ranma was a bit more noncommittal. "Yeah. I hope, think so, too. It's nice to have another person to talk to. Somebody who actually knows how to help people get better."

Akane smiled, "Yeah."

Ranma knelt by one of the packs. "Might as well start on fixing dinner."

Akane frowned for a moment then replied, "Thanks Ranma." For now, she'd let Ranma cook. Fixing food was just another thing she'd work on but not push. Ranma was a decent cook, so it really wasn't important she worry about that anymore. Each of them had a place in their relationship. She wasn't going to let herself be defined by dreams of her mom or memories of Kasumi... or Kanma.

At least fully. Kanma's thoughts had added a perspective on Ranma that made his curse much easier to take. And had brought back in some sense that girl, that friend, that peer she'd wanted so badly on a rainy day in the dojo years ago. A smile bloomed as she realized it was much nicer to think of, and see, Ranma as pretty instead of perverted when she was a girl. But really, more than pretty. Ranma was strong and independent and so damn cute when she smiled. Her face flushed as she swapped sexy for cute in her mind.

Embarrassment and fear returned focus to the world outside, and Ranma again. Akane let a silent laugh escape. Maybe she was too much of a guy for cooking. But the dark blue haired girl had to admit that her red headed girl, even wearing a sports bra under the silk shirt (thank the Princess for that little wardrobe addition) and fixing dinner, was still more a guy than she was. At least this lifetime. In the end it sort of seemed that letting duties define gender or the other way around was something she'd have to let go of. Ranma seemed to be doing that too. It was part of growing up. It was part of getting better. Even if she wasn't married to Ranma, there were some 'female' roles she might not be able to take, let alone want. Though it was hard to think of any traditional women's roles beyond cooking she didn't want. Except maybe to be bound by them.

Akane summoned her spell book to make use of the time Ranma was fixing dinner. She'd already begun studying a new spell. Maybe she could learn it before dinner. After the spell of opening, familiar rainbow lights welcomed their mistress back. This would only take a few minutes.

Closing the book after a seemingly timeless interval, Akane jerked her head around to check Ranma. It was easy to totally lose track of the world when studying. Luckily, her husband was finishing up dinner, dumping some of it onto a metal dish. There was probably time to try out her new spell to call a storm shield.

Akane took few paces away from her husband using Mjolnir as a walking staff. Looking heavenward, she invoked the new spell, "Kataigida Aspis!" With a clap of thunder, a lightning bolt was summoned from the heavens. It froze at about her waist level, still crackling with energy. Over the course of a second it wrapped around her waist as if onto an invisible spool until a halo of energy orbited a couple centimeters beyond her belt. The completed shield was bright white and gave off little lightning sparks while spinning slowly clockwise.

"What the heck?" Ranma called out from the cooking area. She'd watched the shield encircle her wife. Dinner was done, so she pulled the pot off the fire and ran over. "So what is it this time, Akane?" the redhead asked her wife with a shrug, genuine fascination hiding behind forced nonchalance.

Akane smirked. Ranma hadn't fully succeeded in disguising her interest. "I summoned a storm shield. It should do a little damage if you touch it and absorb an attack or two before it's used up."

Ranma realized she had to test the shield. She trotted over to the lakeshore and picked up a handful of pebbles to toss at Akane. Each of the missiles that would have hit her was deflected with a tiny flash of flame and buzz, the orbiting 'belt' diminishing a little each time. Ranma finally gave her appraisal, "Interesting. That might actually hold up for a while. I'll have to toss some real attacks at it sometime."

Akane couldn't keep a proud smile off her face. "I never thought I'd ever ask a guy to hit me, but maybe I will if it's for a good cause."

"Who say's I'm gonna be a guy, Akane?" Ranma razzed her wife, ending by sticking out her tongue.

Akane laughed at her husband's superb demonstration of maturity, or was it playfulness? Perspective after all, was everything. "You gotta point, Ranma. Maybe I should'a said somebody instead'a guy."

Anyways, dinner's done Akane. Not as good as what Michru made, I'm sure.

Akane tried hard to smile, "That's fine Ranma, I'm sure it will be good."

Ranma bit back the comeback Akane left herself wide open for.

(((())))

Engrossed in thought, Akane concentrated on the figure across the lake, well out of earshot. How their lives had changed. Not just in the past few weeks, but this lifetime. A sharp, cool breeze whipped across the water. Rousing a rumbling in her ears; short midnight blue hair flew into her vision for a few moments, then was blown past it again, before the gust died down.

No twentieth century improvements marred the timeless view. Except for a few chromosomal details in both herself and her husband, it could just as easily have been eight millennia earlier.

Reaching an answer, Ranma's wife turned to her questioner and guest. "I guess it's like there are pieces of Kanma inside me. Sometimes they feel right, like they're part of, well, me. Sometimes, it feels like it's umm, not me. Like it's strange. Like when I was carrying Terra... Ranma that time. Some old thoughts were like a comfortable old shirt." She turned red, "Like wanting to kiss her." Color drained as she paused.

Akane's guest looked up from her notebook. "Can you tell me more about your feelings, Akane?"

Akane shrugged, "Yeah, I guess. It's just so hard. I mean I fought being called a girl-lover from junior high on. And now I find out I was a guy my last life. And my ultra-macho husband was a girl last time around. Though she was one heck of a tomboy." Akane smiled as she recalled her almost-namesake.

The psychologist nodded, "Go on, please. If you'd like to."

Akane returned the nod, "Yeah. I feel sort of lost. But I'm not sure if I really am or not. It's just, like I said, hard. I'm going to have to admit being something that I denied with all my anger and strength for years."

Her guest replied with a questioning look, "But you didn't have those memories back then, right?"

Akane had to shrug again, "Who knows, really? I mean I didn't even think I had ever been a guy before Mars helped with my memories. Still, when I met Ranma I was amazed. Another girl who was a martial artist and so much better than me. I mean I had a girl crush on her pretty good in the dojo. But that was just from being Akane, I think. Not from her being Akana. Still, it's harder to say now."

A couple tears fell, "And, Ranma's got it way worse than me. He's actually gotta be a girl sometimes. I'm sorta scared that he'll really become a girl and want to leave me for some guy. 'Cause Akana may've been a tomboy, but she did like guys. I know she liked me a lot. Just from talking to Ranma the past few weeks. And I sorta felt like she was one in a million back in the day. On that one day. On my last day as a guy, I finally found a girl worth marrying." Her vision darkened with unshed tears.

Akane looked to her visitor, who looked up from her notebook.

The doctor raised her left index finger, "Because she was so attractive, or something else?"

Akane smiled at the memory, "I... Yes... and yes. She sort of had a rep back then. Pretty, but a handful. Strong and independent. As happy... in pants, a gown, or that three quarters miniskirt and and leotard she liked. The other guys pretty much thought she was too much work."

Akane shrugged before continuing, "But I realized on that day... when it was too late... she was what I wanted. A strong girl who would be a pal, not a prize. Who I could talk with anything about. Who could take me all the amazing places she needed to go. Or I could take along on my expeditions. A peer. A friend. No other girls really measured up, at least that way.

Akane made a fist by each shoulder."All the other princes wanted was a beautiful girl to show off at balls and in court. One who was feminine and mild. Bursting with healthy beauty." Akane turned red by the end, hands dropping to her sides.

"Something you might have said back then?" Her doctor asked.

"No..." Akane responded, clasping hands below her chest, thoughtful again. "That was sorta what a pervert in high school used to say about Ranma and me. To the whole school. All he saw in Ranma and me was two girls he wanted to 'save'. Athletic and strong, but yearning to stand meekly at his side. He liked to say," Her voice became deep as she proclaimed, "I must have them both!"

"Kunou? The two of you mentioned him, but would appreciate your perspective." The doctor asked, clearly interested in Akane's response.

Akane made a face like she had eaten something distasteful, "I'm glad he's in my... our past." She shook her head in the negative, "He, sorta poisoned love for me, at least of a guy, for a while. He, made all guys into perverts, at least to me. Because, you know, he had a mob of guys attack me every day." Akane was thoughtful for a few moments, but anxiety grew by the second.

She closed her mouth and shook, suppressing sobs. She tried to speak. A thick, syrupy voice oozed out. "Just thinking about it... With what male perspective I inherited... It must have torn Ranma up." Akane concluded, head buried in her hands as she tried to regain composure. "I... I never really realized. I... I never really thought how it made him feel." She took deep breaths that progressed from ragged to controlled. "I... need to talk with him about that."

Akane's visitor nodded 'yes', then looked thoughtful for a few moments before continuing, "You okay Akane?"

Akane shook her head, still seeking more composure. Closed eyes and deep breaths finally brought a vertical nod.

"Okay," Her guest started at last. "That leads us to... one last thing today. Ranma wanted me to share something with you along the lines we just traveled. It's something that might make you feel uncomfortable again, but he wanted me to talk with you about it... to see if I can help. Coming out here, he... she was almost groped. And she took care of it in a way that made you proud, and your response well... made her feel even prouder."

Akane smiled, "Yeah, she showed that guy who was boss, while still playing the 'cute girl' act the whole time. Put that pervert in his place."

The doctor nodded her head, "Indeed. Then he got to thinking about all the times you've called him... or her... a pervert. He never was like that man on the train, or that Kunou boy. Was she? I know you two have a history of trading insults, but that one really hurts your husband. Especially now, when he's struggling with Akana's memories."

Akane's face darkened again, a couple of guilty tears fell as she replied, "Yeah, I guess that's a lot worse than him calling me a tomboy, because I am one, at least to him. Or saying I'm uncute because it's tough to act cute the way he, she can. I don't think of him like that jerk on the train. Or Kunou or Happosai." She touched steepled index fingers to her mouth in thought.

Her questioner offered a thin smile of encouragement. "I'm glad you're thinking it over, Akane. Try to do that more in the future... if you get a chance."

Akane shook her head slowly up and down. "When I first saw Ranma as a guy, I had no idea he was the girl I'd just befriended. Who just might have tickled my buried memories of Akana. I just saw him as a pervert, like the ones at school, who'd broken into my bathroom. I remember now that, even as a guy myself, I felt like a pervert for admiring Terra in her seifuku. Even though she was technically my fiancee. She was... is just so damn beautiful, especially in that ridiculously cute outfit. It hit me again like a tonne of bricks carrying her to the temple that night, just a few days ago. So, really, I'm not doing anything to her... or him... I'm not doing to myself." A little realization struck as she thought it over. "Not that I should do it to either of us, I guess."

The psychologist looked inward, formulating a new line of thought. "I'm curious, do you feel Haruka and Michiru are perverts, Akane?"

Akane flushed a bit as she considered the couple. "No, what they had, and have again, is beautiful. But. Well. Haruka is a bit that way I guess. I know she likes looking at girls."

"Do you like looking at girls, Akane?" her guest probed.

Akane flushed again, "Not really, except for Ranma, when he's one. I do like checking out their outfits. Thinking about how I'd look in her clothes or shoes."

After stroking her chin for a moment or two, her visitor asked a new question."So, what if a girl thought you were a pervert for looking at her outfit? She can't read your mind and might feel your eyes lingered a little too long. Anyway, just try not to read too much into what Ranma's doing. She deserves a chance, a second one, and probably more. Especially now."

Akane watched her husband again, like a pervert? No, because she loved him and looking at him. It was still hard to grasp that a plain girl like her was somehow worthy of marriage to him, or her. Maybe it was because they, at least started as friends. And Ranma thought Akane was cute when she smiled. Maybe she wasn't plain after all. Ranma's wife smiled again. "Yeah, I can see that Doctor." She turned to face her guest again, "Thanks."

The counselor rose while focusing on her patient,"And thank you, Akane. Talk to Ranma. About our discussion, or whatever you need to. Be open with him. Ask him the questions you need answered. And listen to his answers... and his own questions carefully. The two of you really need that now. I know it's hard. Neither of you has ever had to share like this. But married couples, who stay married, do." She finished with a earnest smile."Your discussion may go farther afield than most couples, however."

Speaking again, Akane was still smiling a little. "Yeah, you're right. And, thanks for listening. And for helping us here."

The doctor smiled back, "You're welcome. Just make sure it's Ranma you open up to next, okay? You have questions only he can answer. Questions he might need answers for himself. I'm sure he has some for you, too. So... think you can do that, Akane?"

Akane respond with curt, uncertain nod. "Umm... okay. I guess I can."

The doctor wiggled her index finger, "No slacking! Okay? I'm not asking you to write a twenty page paper or read one hundred and fifty seven pages in three days. Just share your feelings. And, I'll grade both of you on how your assignments went next session."

Akane nodded one more time. "Sure um, professor. I'll do my homework."

(((())))

A decaying factory stood shuttered and shattered in silence on a quiet street. Rusty fences surrounded all four sides of the lot. As much to keep inside in as outside out. White with age, barely legible signs warned visitors away.

A human would, for a few minutes, share the place with roaches, rats and assorted other vermin. He planned to summon other guests.

The wizened, decrepit man was of a piece with this environment. Corruption called him as surely as panties. In the abandoned plant's old warehouse he set up a single burner butane stove on cracked, pitted concrete. After placing an aluminum cook pot atop the burner, he dumped a canteen of water into the two liter vessel. A flick of a lighter, a twist of a knob later... the water would be boiling in just a few minutes. Some things were so much more convenient these days.

He looked at the blue flame, pondering how he'd reached this point. The demon's purpose had been to challenge the boy, put him in his place, not place him in his grave. Mordecai had almost been too much. Ranma had given, certainly all he could have. Those pretty teases, the Sailor Senshi had to help her in the end. Ranma was almost dead by the time the curvaceous cuties finished off Mordecai.

He'd played his ace, only deuces remained. But there were lots of deuces. Reaching into his backpack, he withdrew a weathered document. He carefully unrolled the ancient parchment. These demons wouldn't be nearly as strong as the last. But instead of calling one, he would open a portal welcoming a horde of demonic foot-soldiers. An entire dimension chock full of 'em would feed a trickle of Mephistophelean mayhem. Ceaseless challenge for Ranma and his... her friends. After sufficient humiliation, he would just have to intervene on the redhead's behalf. He would be her... their savior, and the clear Master of the School.

Amidst gently fading dreams, he took the another step toward his fantasy. A few minutes and the ancient scroll was studied a final time. He had gone over each syllable in his head, perfecting the incantation.

He hastily drew a chalk circle then chanted the ancient Chinese text on the scroll. Either the closed arc glowed dimly, or he had too much sake the night before. He was, pretty, certain it was the former. With a shrug, he figured it had to be.

But the real kicker was the vial of Ranma's blood he'd collected before he left the mall. She'd graciously left quite a lot on the terrazzo. A little rubbing alcohol had kept it fluid, so he could splash it around as the scroll directed.

If, when, the demons got angry, the bloody finger would point to Ranma, instead of himself. He had to cackle at his genius for a few moments. Ranma was harder to deal with than the boys, but planning and scheming was fun. And the reward would be... He slapped himself a couple of times. If he didn't focus it wasn't going to happen.

Awareness again at fever pitch, he turned a full circle; carefully planning an escape route as he went. He wasn't going to get caught in his own trap. After spotting the quickest way out, he turned to face the steaming pan. He pulled out ten plastic bags one by one from the pack he carried. Each held an animal body part or eastern herb. After they all had splashed into the boiling water, he retreated to a hidden vantage point. The fun was about to start. He'd stay for assurance they would come. And make a quick escape after that.

Observing from safety, he saw a sickly green portal materialize. Not much longer to wait now. While the first shadowy figure faded in, Happosai faded into the shadows. And then he was gone. This time, he'd finally show that whelp who the Master was.

His mind drifted as he hightailed it away from the portal. It had been so much easier with Souun and Genma. He gazed back on good times. On sharing sake and a good meal with the boys. A few laughs and stories, then sticking them with the bill. A sprinkling of lessons and training kept them hungry for more. And that kept himself well fed, and entertained. But then, they really hadn't been heirs. True skill and a true heir had skipped a generation.

He still wondered if he would ever be able to pass the torch. If his own school would last beyond him. Bah, no need for melancholy. The world's largest city, and all its uncounted panties, beckoned as he bounced down the boulevard.

(((())))

Sailor Pluto regarded the swirling green portal. The black and white clad woman knew many names. Meiou Setsuna, Meiou-sensei, Mama, Guardian of Time, and at life's sunrise, Setsuna-chan.

At last. Here. She felt it. She knew it. Her life's forced march was almost done.

She was finally on the clock.

"Scary isn't it?" A voice said from behind her. "All that planning, and now you literally can stare at the yawning abyss of your past... and future."

The voice was too familiar. Pluto wasn't sure she wanted to turn around. "And who are you?" She finally asked.

The other woman thought for a bit before responding, "Hmm, you may call me Diktor - though no one else does."

Despite the situation, Pluto managed a tiny laugh, "Okay." Finding courage, she pivoted to look at her visitor. Mirrored sun glasses glinted sickly green. She was very well dressed, with a dark grey herringbone skirt suit and matching gray heels. Dark green hair was gathered, then diverted to the side by a silver hair ornament. "Why did you come?" Pluto asked after her quick examination.

The visitor shrugged, "I sort of had to." Her right hand brushed the hair-clip. "How are you holding up?"

Pluto let out a heavy sigh, "Actually, I've been a lot worse. Seeing... what I waited ten millennia to see... means no more brooding, fear, and wondering for one thing."

Her visitor nodded, "Yes, you're almost there. The Mistress of Time is ready to pass her greatest test."

Pluto shook her head, "Mistress... Mistress? That title is more reputation than reality. I'm only in control of the cleanup, not really time itself." She managed a sardonic grin as she continued, "More Time's carnal mistress than in command. Especially in this... mess." She shook her head, "A better childhood? This is why she sacrificed herself. Her pain is gone now. Just another thoughtless suicide. Now I'm stuck walking a tightrope for ten thousand years paying for that childhood." She couldn't stop tears.

Her visitor about to speak, Pluto's Senshi raised her left hand, silencing the other woman. After wiping her face with the back of her right glove, she continued, "And then there's, them, they have no idea what's going to happen. I just can't stand by knowing full well myself. Am I any better than a thug if I do? Using her then dumping her when I'm done? Can I do that to my own mother?" She looked over to her guest, who was smiling.

Her visitor spoke, "But didn't those memories provide you hope in the darkest hours? Even watching them die, you knew it wasn't forever. And they gave you gifts of compassion that helped you through some tough decisions, right? Take right now, you're not going to just stand by, are you?"

Pluto could only shrug. But the encouraging smile on the other woman's face firmed her resolve.

Her guest returned the shrug, "Well, I guess I came to tell you that your reasoning is sound. You can get through this, just be yourself. Like you planned all along. It will come out okay in the end." She paused for a moment, "I should know." The well dressed woman clapped her hands in front of herself, "Well, I should be going, Pluto. I think I said what I wanted to."

Pluto nodded once, "Okay, and thanks."

Her visitor shook her head, "No, thank you." Offering a curt bow, returned by Pluto, she turned and left the ruined warehouse. Pluto knew enough not to follow.

(((())))

Doctor Asari sat down on a rock to start her time with Ranma. "Well, Ranma, we've been meeting about a month now. How are you feeling?"

Ranma looked at Akane, across the lake working out, pondering what to say. His wife had incorporated Mjolnir, and her storm shield, into some new kata she was working on. The clumsy tomboy was getting closer to graceful, even with that hammer-staff. "Better." He said distantly, as if appraising his wife's progress. He turned to face his visitor, "A lot better, doc'." He thought what to say for a bit. He shrugged, "Don't know if you want me to go over all this again."

The psychologist smiled slightly, "Whatever you want to do. Though it's been a while since we went over what's happened. I'll leave it to you." He was still having problems dealing with his past life's memories, however.

The black haired boy nodded, "Well, I guess I really don't need t' go over all of it again." He looked back at Akane, speaking at last after watching her again, "I, we're both so lucky. To've found each other then. " He smiled thinly, continuing with a shrug. "Not t' mention now. Sometimes I wonder if, somebody, didn't have a hand in it." He paused for a moment. "Seen Setsuna lately?"

The dark haired woman nodded, "Yes, occasionally."

Ranma nodded. "She okay? And any other Senshi you may run into?" He sort of smiled as he continued, "Our three visitors don't tell us much each weekend. They just focus on bein' with us, on havin' fun with us. Which is great, actually."

The psychologist nodded as she continued, "Setsuna's incredibly tense these days, more than I've ever seen her. I know the Sailor Senshi have had to deal with a string of demon attacks" her hands emphasized the point as as she continued, "But that's normal for them, and old hat for Setsuna." Ranma's guest paused for a moment, then shook her head. "Further speculation wouldn't be fair to anyone."

Ranma nodded. "Demon attacks, huh? I wonder why Haruka, Michiru and Hotaru never told us when they visited each weekend?" Ranma asked, clearly puzzled.

The doctor looked thoughtful as she responded, "Maybe they want to shield you from all that, until you're ready for it. Your decision to take some time away has really helped. So, perhaps they're just respecting that, and trying to do their part in your healing."

Ranma's smiled in appreciation, "Yeah, you're right. About me, well, I'm gettin' better. 'Specially since I sorta realized since you were here last. Akana's memories, my memories of back then, 're more like," he stood and stepped the meter or so to kneel before the saturday night campfire, now half a week dead. He pointed at the cold ashes, "These. Sure they look kinda like a tree, but they really aren't anymore. They don't confuse me now. I'm not scared of my memories taking over these days. But still, they're part of me."

His is expression become melancholy as he pivoted, knees just a few centimeters above the ground, to face his guest. "I like bein' just me in here." He pointed to his head. Waiting for a moment, he continued, "And I like having that memory stuff sorted out. Or at least getting near there." He looked down, "I'm a little different than I thought I was, but I'm a lot more the same too." He looked up at his doctor as he finished, "I, nope, we needed a guide here. We were so lost and mixed up. Thanks, doc'."

The psychologist flushed for a moment, immediately regaining composure. Ranma had improved tremendously since their first meeting. "Okay, Ranma. How have the last three days gone for you and Akane?" Further conversation only reinforced her observations. Ranma, Akane, both of them, were doing well.

(((())))

Seeing their visitor had gone, Akane wound down her kata. She looked at the lake for a few moments. It was still early afternoon. Sunlight sparkled on the crests of azure ripples and wavelets. A snap of a twig broke her concentration. She looked up to see her husband.

"Lookin' good, Akane." Ranma remarked. Realization he meant both his wife and her kata brought a proud smile to his face.

"Thanks," The midnight blue haired girl replied, "Taking me." She almost frowned for a second before continuing, "My training seriously helped, a lot."

Ranma nodded. "You taking training seriously's helped too. Though you've been serious for a while, 'least since the fiancee mess was wrapped up. We also got more focus now. You settled for scraping by on raw talent and strength for too long. Not t' mention Kunou's blind spot for girls."

"Both of us know about that one. Kunou-baka's blind spot." Akane replied with a smirk.

Her red faced husband answered, "Yep. Though that just made beatin' him up that much easier. And more satisfyin'."

Akane's face also grew crimson, as she tried to gather courage to ask a question she'd wanted to for a while now. She looked at "Ranma, one thing I've wanted to ask you, for about eight thousand years. Umm well," Silent, she looked up into her husband's face.

Color in Ranma's face drained red to white. He replied in badly hidden fear, "What Akane? I was a girl back then. If you wanna get a curse or something. I'm not really sure about that. I mean, I know I've gotta to be Terra to be my absolute best. But you're a pretty good Saturn Knight as a girl. Your magic, and martial arts, are both gettin' better every day."

Akane turned even redder as she shook her head, "No, baka. I don't think I want a curse like yours. But because of your curse, and you being Terra. I realize that I'm sort of married to another girl, at least part time. Maybe for years at a time. You know how deployments and battle go."

"Yeah, and?" Color and a smile returned as Ranma replied with a question. He was so happy Akane wanted to stay a tomboy and not become a boy, even part time. He really wasn't totally considering the meat of the conversation.

Akane closed her eyes and sucked in a breath. Her hands dropped to her sides as two fists. Opening her eyes, she sought her husband's own as she continued. "We're going shopping this weekend with Hotaru, Michiru, and Haruka. I was thinking that we could split up at the end. You, Haruka and Michiru shop for a special outfit for you. I do the same with little sister." Akane paused for a moment, she was half way there now. She wrung her hands, as if to wash her worries away.

"Okay, and?" Ranma echoed his previous question. Not entirely sure he liked the direction this was going, he added another question, "A guy's outfit or a girl's?"

Akane's palms met, almost in prayer of success, as she continued. "A girl's outfit, weren't you listening? Ranma, please. Hear me out. Trust me."

"Does that mean you'll trust me now? But anyways," Ranma retorted, then nodded once. His smile was gone, however.

Akane wrung her hands again. Finding them a fascinating study right then. She wasn't sure this would happen, but continued anyway. "I do trust you, Ranma. With my life, you know that. Since we'll be back in Juuban anyhow, I want to take you on a date near campus. I want to see how we do as two girls... who love each other in public. In the area that's our home, so we're sort of telling people too. Or at least might. I know a nice place my sister recommended."

Ranma shrugged, "Okay, but I gotta ask for a little more on 'why' here. So, why?" He almost smirked as he continued, "And who's the pervert now, Akane?"

Akane looked up from her busy hands into her husband's eyes, "I want to make sure I have your heart as a girl too. That I can make you happy as a girl. That I can be happy with myself when you're a girl. Not just with friends in private. Not just playing around. I want to find the real answers. Because, back then, you liked guys. And I liked girls. And, to be honest, that scares me."

"Me too, but not as much as it did. Because I know I'm me now. But I can see how this might help both of us, Akane." Ranma interjected, his face showing more understanding than before.

Continuing, Akane tried to smile."I know memories of Kanma make it easy to, umm hope, I can love you, as a girl." Akane took a breath, having said her piece. Distracting work done, lifeless hands fell to her side. Akane's face clearly showed all her questions and doubts by the declaration's end. But she had a little more to say, "You're right. I totally feel like a pervert now. But I want to feel like your partner, when we're both girls."

Ranma scratched the base of his pigtail, pondering a response. The more he thought, the redder he got. Finally he shook his head, "Don't ever worry 'bout me and guys Akane. Because the only guy who was worth going after back when I did like guys, um, that way, was you. You know that. And that guy, you, by accident, bein' a hero, or just fate, saved me." Pointing to his chest to emphasize the point, he continued. "Have faith in yourself, and us, and Destiny." He finished with a goofy, sweet, dreamy look Akane thought he could only summon to get a freebie as a girl.

Akane found herself laughing. Perceived perversion, embarrassment, and questioning lost in a moment of sharing.

Ranma joined the laughter. His hands sought and found Akane's as he spoke again. "Anyways, yeah. Those two could help me find something that's me, but as a girl. Not Miss Free Ice Cream, Ryouga's sister, or any a my disguises. The kinda girl who won't take crap from anybody. Especially creeps like Kunou or that perv on the train. But doesn't play Haruka's game either and pretend she's a guy. So, I, I'd like t' go on a date with you. It'll give you a chance to show me what you want on a date. And maybe I'll figure out what I want too, at least when I'm a girl. And it would be fun to relax and let you do the date stuff for once."

Akane cast remaining doubts aside, or at least held them down as she dug up a new smile. The laughter had made it all much easier. "Okay. This Saturday then. After shopping."

"Okay, Akane. You got it." Ranma looked thoughtful, mentally shifting gears. "I was watching that new kata you were doing. Did you ever consider..."

(((())))

If felt almost like cheating, watching the world fly by outside the window instead of earning the kilometers on foot. They'd survived Shinjuku again and were nearing their stop. The automated door opened and the two travelers stepped onto the platform. Hustling down the stairs, Ranma realized that in less than a hour they would be home.

Starting down the sidewalk, an incessant car horn attracted Akane's attention. "Hey, Ranma, look."

Ranma followed his wife's index finger. With a squeal of tires, a gray midsize car zipped over. Hotaru hopped out and held the door open.

"Get in, get in! Papa doesn't wanna get a ticket, you guys!" The girl shouted at her big sister.

The trunk popped open and Ranma and Akane threw their packs in. The auto's springs groaned under the load. People who tossed cement lawn decorations for recreation had a unique definition of 'traveling light'. Akane jumped in first, getting the right window seat, Hotaru sat in the middle, and Ranma took the left, sidewalk side. They were barely buckled in when with a squeal of tires the announced the car's abrupt departure.

Hotaru showed Ranma a purple thermos bottle with a smile.

Ranma swallowed.

Hotaru shook her head and giggled, "Don't worry, It's hot water. I wanted to make sure that big sister's husband makes it home as a boy. And mama stays a girl, of course."

Ranma ruffled the girl's hair, "Thanks, kiddo." Looking up, he saw that beautiful smile he fell in love with years ago, Akane's best feature. He had to smile back.

(((())))

Home. After a month away, Ranma and Akane were back.

Ranma loved the outdoors. The limitless starry/azure sky overhead was gone. But there were compensations. The bed would be larger and softer. And the two of them would sleep together in a way sleeping bags hadn't allowed. That was worth a smile of anticipation for both of them. Plus, they could buy food and Ranma wouldn't be stuck cooking all the time. And, there was television.

"TV's a lousy way to spend the afternoon when you can work out." Ranma groused to Akane. Chin in his hands, he watched a kaiju eat Tokyo again on the small screen.

Akane shrugged, "Well, Hotaru and her family said they had some business to look after before they take us shopping for our date. So they backed out of the other shopping trip."

Ranma nodded, "I'm glad, but sorta sad too. I'd like to help Michru if I can here. Even if it means buying a dress or something."

Akane smiled, "Yeah, helping her would be helping us, in a way. But on working out." Slowly shaking her head, she continued. "Really, Ranma. You know, even Nabiki works out watching the tube. Heck, I would lift weights sometimes. Maybe you're just lazy." Akane replied, sticking her tongue out as she finished.

Ranma shrugged, then flipped the channel, a flash of color catching his eye. "Hey Akane, ever watch this show?"

Akane parked next to her husband, "No... 'Wedding Peach', huh? Brother, look what those poor girls have to wear." She kissed her husband on the cheek, "My Terra's outfit looks a lot better."

Ranma shrugged, "I guess so. Not that I mind that much I guess."

Akane punched him lightly on the shoulder, "No, you wouldn't."

Ranma tuned away from the magical girl show to look his wife in the face, "I asked Haruka what she thought about the uniform. And what she said made me think. She talked about the pride she felt wearing it and sacrifice it represented, 'cause she died in it. Like I did. Heck, like you did too. So I sorta changed the way I thought about it." Akane had turned to receive most of the comment face to face.

Both pairs of eyes turned back to the TV, "But," Ranma concluded, "This is just a silly show. Those guys got no idea 'bout what it's really like."

Somewhere between commercials, there was a knock at the door. Akane got up to answer it. As she'd expected, Haruka, Michiru, and Hotaru were there. Though they did look a little tired. "Hi, what happened?"

"Nothing..." Hotaru replied, a little wearily, to her big sister.

"Sorry, Hotaru-chan, not sure I buy that one." Akane replied with hands on her hips.

"We'll tell you, but we've gotta get going after that." Haruka told Akane.

"Okay, come in." Akane replied.

"Wedding Peach!" Hotaru exclaimed. "Cool!"

Ranma turned to his wife's little sister, "Why? It's just silly and happy."

Hotaru shook her head, "Exactly. It makes me happy, and reminds me that, no matter how bad things seem, we Magical Girls can make a difference. Make things better."

Michiru nodded, "We've sure been trying, the past couple of weeks. It seems your Master opened a portal to a demonic dimension." She couldn't keep judgment from her stare at Ranma.

"Haposai? Look, the guy's a total perv. He may be Pop," Ranma gestured at his wife as he continued, "and Akane's dad's master. But mine? I'm really not sure." Ranma sharply replied.

Haruka picked up from her partner, "So we gotta fight them pretty much every day. Just a hard daily workout so far. Keeps us in shape. But..." Her eyes locked on Ranma's as she continued, "We'd love help. It'd make it easier for all of us. But, really, Usagi's right. Your healing is much more important right now. 'Specially since they're wimps." Her eyes twinkled as she continued, "But we have a much more interesting mission tonight."

Michiru took the conversational baton from her partner. "It will be fun finally getting a chance to shop with you Ranma." She pointed at said martial artist, "You still owe me that shopping expedition for all of us though."

Ranma smirked in response, "Yeah, now that we're home, it'll be a lot easier to do, well, stuff." He turned to his wife with a smile, and a look. Filling in details even their mom would be proud of.

Hotaru pointed a glass of water Ranma's way as she spoke, "Let's go! This time, I'll let you do it, Ranma-chan."

Ranma turned to Akane's little sister, "Okay, Hotaru-chan." Kneeling to take the glass, Ranma responded, "Thanks."

(((())))

The early evening sun shone on the glass front of the Rising Sun Cafe. Inside, a Mizuharo sophomore entertained a guest from Nerima.

The younger girl, Nabiki, was working on a double major in business and photography. Her younger sister was Akane who of course also had gone to Mizuharo with her husband Ranma. Nabiki wore a comfortable pair of shorts and a white blouse. Her brown hair was styled in a pageboy. In her High School days, she was a ruthless wheeler and dealer feared by many. Though she had calmed down a bit in college, her reputation remained.

The older girl, Kasumi, was a few centimeters taller than Nabiki, making her just taller than Ranma. She was Nabiki and Akane's big sister, but had sacrificed personal growth to be a surrogate mother for her siblings after their mother died. Her long brown hair was in a loose ponytail that reached her middle back. Like Nabiki, she wore a white blouse, but with a long navy skirt. She was possessed of legendary calm and cheer bordering on obliviousness. As de facto Matriarch of the wild and crazy Tendou household, that was actually a blessing.

"So, how's Daddy holding up?" Nabiki asked her big sister.

"He's doing well, when he's not worried about his two 'babies'." Kasumi cheerfully responded.

Nabiki smiled a Cheshire cat grin as she brought a teacup to her lips. A flash of red entering the door had caught her photographer's eye. The redhead was almost Ranma's twin, except for free flowing hair. Plus it looked like her date was holding the door for her.

Hmm... If Ranma really was a girl, maybe she would dress like that. She wore a white silk sleeveless top with a silver dragon design on the front. Over that was a black faux leather jacket with plenty of buckles and zippers. A black pleather pencil skirt stopped just a few centimeters above her knees. Black slippers merged into dark stockings that disappeared above the skirt's hem. Cheap clothes, but cute. But that pretty much described most coed's wardrobes. On second thought, maybe the shirt was pricey. Still, this girl had a hard edge, Nabiki thought as her gaze narrowed.

When the date entered in the redhead's wake, Nabiki choked on her tea. It was Akane. Her little sister wore a black chenogasm with a silver dragon. Matching black platform heels added the ten centimeters or so needed to match her date's... Ranma's height.

Nabiki was still coughing when Kasumi asked her sister, "Are you all right, Nabiki? What... Oh, my. Don't Akane and Ranma look nice tonight? And so modern."

Nabiki coughed a couple more times before responding with what sarcastic nonchalance she could scrape up in the coughing fit's wake. "That's it Kasumi. Modern. I was completely at a loss for words."

Kasumi smiled, "Always glad to help, little sister."

Two more pieces found their place in the bizarre multi media collage Nabiki was creating. So far she had used video, printer paper, and now memory. But... maybe some photos tonight, back at her apartment. Though she did have one of her portable Beta camcorders at hand in its case. Just in case.

Originally the middle Tendou daughter hadn't wanted to share her suspicions... conclusions with the pair at the table on the other side of the cafe. But her curiosity had grown too much in the past month. Now, she just wanted answers. Those two had been away for weeks after their sudden withdrawal from the University. And, what a coincidence, Sailor Terra and Saturn Knight disappeared from sight then too. Adding to that was the fact Terra was almost killed at the mall. Nabiki figured she and Kasumi could surreptitiously watch the daters while nursing a teapot or two.

Three pork cutlets, four baskets of cold soba, and thai tea all had been less... adventurous than inviting hot liquid to Ranma and Akane's table. But still satisfying. Having just nosily sucked in the last of her soba, Ranma looked at her date. The redhead's torso hadn't grown as much as her legs in the spurt she'd experienced the past year. Heels or no, Akane and herself were just about eye-to-eye when seated. "So, how do ya feel now, Akane? Good? Bad? Perverted?" She couldn't keep a grin off her face at the last question.

"Good, Ranma. Really good. Not at first. I know we got a stare or two walking down here from Hotaru's. But... having your hand in mine... made it worth it." Akane happily replied.

Ranma rolled her eyes, "It was more than a couple stares, ya know. But after a while I just felt, 'Hey. I love her, she loves me. No stare can change that'. So I just ignored 'em. And, though one ain't here anymore. I'm, we're fulfillin' a couplea tomboys, and two really great guys' dreams tonight." Her eyes glittered a little as she continued, "Not too long ago, you told me this was my second best side, 'kane. But it's still darn good, gotta say. 'Sides Terra kinda forces me t' explore it too."

Akane nodded. "Yeah, and I like what I've discovered tonight. At least once I got over my own hangups about, myself. How are you doing? Ready for Terra again?"

"Good, and like we've discussed before yeah. When that's needed, at least. Terra's kinda like the button behind the glass 'emergency use only'." Ranma replied, distracted by her statement's implications for a few moments.

Akane placed her left hand above Ranma's right on the table. "Well, that's how it is for all of us. I mean, I can't see becoming Saturn Knight to go down to the store for a carton of miso. I mean, I could blow up a display of shrimp crackers, I guess. But what's the point?" Akane looked thoughtful and sad as she squeezed her husband's hand tighter. "We figured out how you got here. I pulled you out. But, how did I?"

Ranma shrugged, then placed her left hand atop Akane's. "You got reincarnated. Not to get too girly here... but I know it's you. Yeah, you're different... but you still have Kanma's soul. I think that's why I was attracted to you from when we first met. Not that I ever admitted it until both of us had almost died. 'Course even after that I denied it when I realized you weren't really dead. Then our first wedding blew up and..."

Akane patted Ranma's right hand as she spoke. "I know. We were so against the marriage we couldn't admit our feelings." Akane diced the air using her right hand as a cleaver as she continued. "Still, I'm a failure as a girl. I wonder if it's because I was a guy when we first met."

Ranma shook her head, "Come on! How can you say that Akane?" Her face got redder as she continued. "After mom pushed us, we umm, consummated our marriage. You're one heck of a woman, Akane Saotome I wouldn't care if you get an 'F' as a girl, and you don't. Who cares if Shampoo got a A++++ as a girl? And has a bigger chest even than me? She's not my wife, and never woulda been. I mean, you're gonna be the mother of our kids. Not Shampoo. Not Ukyou. 'Cause I love you, not them. We got married not 'cause a bein' pushed or forced. But 'cause a love."

Akane flushed bright red, but still had doubts. "Yes. But. But. I was a guy. You needed me to be a girl. How was I even reincarnated as a girl? I mean, we know why you ended up the way you did... But, somehow I got reincarnated as a girl with a lot of my memories. Like other Senshi, sailors or not. And more than most, actually."

Ranma thought for a bit, coming to an obvious answer. "Well, ya said ya pulled me, my body, outa the spring of drowned girl I just made. So what happened after I died?"

Akane spoke slowly, distantly, almost as in a trance. "Well when I did, I remember the arm I pulled you out with itching." Her face became animated as she pulled both hands off the table, dropping Ranma's. Two fists punctuated her speech in unison as she spoke, "I cast a sacrifice spell, which delayed the effects. So I maybe, probably died as a girl." Her fists opened and fell down to the table, "So I'm just a guy in a girl's body."

Ranma shook her head back and forth, "First off, Akane. Me too right now, pretty much! That's all I can ever be this life. And that's fine with me, 'specially if things keep goin' good tonight. But ya know, it ain't that simple. Don't forget, this life, we grew up from babies as a guy and girl. And your um, hm, girl sensei? I dunno, model? Kasumi, is sorta a perfect wife, 'cause she had to be with your Pop, you, and Nabiki bein' the way you guys were."

Akane nodded, "Yeah and you had to be a," She lowered her voice a few octaves, "'man amongst men'. Or die." She finished in reflective silence.

Ranma nodded, "So, yeah, we're all mixed up, heck screwed up, by what happened. We both had to go for targets we could never hit, 'specially considerin', well, what were were before. But, we did good anyhow. Mom burned that paper me and pops marked. And you and me even ended up together again. And we're really able t' understand each other, 'cause a everything."

Akane put her left hand on Ranma's right again. Her husband even felt prettier than her. But, like Ramma said. In the end that didn't matter. Because he loved her. "Thanks Ranma," Akane almost whispered. Swirling doubts and questions took her voice again.

Ranma thought for a while. What was bugging Akane? Ranma realized there was still one incredibly important thing left to do. It was scary, and she would have put herself in Akane's hands, but it was time they put the last ghosts to rest... and broadened the spectrum of their marriage. She wanted this. Akane needed this.

Glaring at Akane, Ranma spoke again. "Okay, I've waited eight thousand years for you to kiss me. Really kiss me. I know, I didn't hang around back then. That sword through my chest sorta ruined my day. But with your help, and Queen Serenity's, I got better. Just took a while. I always win, in the end. And that means you win too." Ranma finished with a smirk as she turned to face Akane. She closed her eyes, whispering for her wife's ears alone. "So... where's my kiss, Tomboy?"

Akane blinked, feeling dizzy and disconnected for a second. The pounding of her heart brought her back. She, he had wanted this in the back of his mind, long ago. But, he was paralyzed then and she was now. He had been what she was now, a pervert. But...

He was Akana. She was Ranma. This was the one.

Well, then.

Akane threaded her strong hands through Ranma's arms to meet behind the redhead's back. Together, her hands crawled up her partner's back, drawing the other girl closer. Their chests touched. Akane paused for a fearful second, but pressed on amidst sensations formerly forbidden. They were so close now she could feel Ranma's gentle breath. Her redhead's eyes were closed in complete trust. The girl who held her heart had thick red lashes unmarred by artificiality some preferred. No painted eyelids over those beautiful sapphire orbs or artificial color on those... definitely kissable lips. Absolutely pure and feminine and beautiful.

Closing her own eyes, Akane pressed her lips to her partner's. Akane's tongue easily pushed through the first fleshy barrier, but met resistance. The taste was a strange variation of the familiar. She urgently prodded for admittance to the brilliant white citadel beyond her campaign's first victory. Tension and doubt filled her as the unyielding surface stood strong against her assault. She ran her tongue along each tooth. Probing with the muscular appendage, never finding weakness. But then, this was Ranma. Suddenly, the wall gave way and another tongue invaded Akane's own fortress. Left unguarded in Akane's focus on attack, attack! They danced between their lips. Completely naked and fully clothed. In privacy, in a public room. And Akane's tension melted into a softer, comfortable warmth.

Both girls sighed softly, near silent outside their lip lock. In mourning for star crossed lovers as much as celebrating present pleasure. Like that treasured moment a month ago, they were again one.

As they had wished, as they had been, as they were, as they would be. A young prince and princess on their last day. Two martial artists. Both male, both female, starting a life together. Two couples facing their future. As four, as two, as one. Now and forever.

Un-measured time elapsed. Both warriors withdrew. Neither victor, both victorious. Even as they refortified, each knew she, and he, had changed and grown. Two pairs of lips closed again with dreamy smiles.

Akane opened her eyes.

Ranma's eyes sparkled as she croaking throatily, "That was worth the wait, and maybe even dyin' for Akane. Thanks. Hope I got your heart as a girl the way you got mine now."

Akane could only smile and nod. Her worst fears about liking girls had come true. But in the end, they'd only held her back. She loved Rama in either of his forms. She did like girls, or at least the one. But she also loved the one man. And had their, her, his heart. Akane wouldn't worry about Ranma running off with a guy. Finally, she realized just how silly she had been. Besides, Ranma already had run off with a guy. Her.

"Excuse me, madam..." A red faced waitress interrupted as she put a large glass dish with chocolate ice cream and chocolate sauce before Ranma. "With compliments from the lady at other table."

The world outside had intruded. With promised pleasures of its own. In seconds, the incredible mood and feeling had become a cherished memory. More were sure to come.

Ranma and Akane turned to see a smiling Nabiki and blushing Kasumi. Noticing the attention, Nabiki narrowed her eyes. First pointing at the pair then flashing a victory sign. Before the waitress left, Ranma asked, "Hey could you get a couple a spoons and..."

Ranma was silenced by the placement of two more napkins and spoons on the table. "Thanks," she replied as the server bowed slightly.

Uh oh, Akane was supposed to do that stuff tonight. Ranma flinched reflexively, closing her eyes. When nothing happened, Ranma peeked through slitted eyelids. Checking out Akane's mood. She slowly opened up both eyes, to see Akane smiling at her.

Ranma shrugged, "Sorry. Just gotta just say old habits die hard. And I was just askin' for a couplea spoons an' napkins. You've been really great tonight though, Akane. It's nice not to worry about screwing up and forgetting something. Dates should be fun for both people. It's just dumb to put the pressure on the 'guy'. How the heck's he sposed to have fun, huh? He's gotta walk through this whole do and don't mindfield. And he makes just one little mistake, and the whole date's finished. All the fun they had's forgotten. Boom. Gone."

Two shadows appeared over the table, one interjecting, "Umm Ranma, chan? I think that would be minefield. But you did pretty well nail the pitfalls of taking a girl out on a date. But you know, even if a date blows up it's still free food and maybe a movie." Nabiki finished with a smirk.

Ranma offered her short-haired sister in law a sour expression as she retorted, "Well, that's fine for you. But, for Akane and me, we married 'cause we love each other. I don't wanna hurt Akane if I take her on a date, and she doesn't wanna hurt me. So, it can't be free food and never see her again. And I, we wouldn't want that."

Akane listened to Ranma and Nabiki's interchange. She thought about all that had happened since the four of them had all been together at their wedding. When Ranma and her had 'just' been a tomboy and a cursed martial artist. Off to Juuban to escape all the Nerima weirdness. Akane forced Ranma to make that stupid promise that almost destroyed their marriage. Of course, that brought the entire last month crashing into her. Again. Akane found herself catapulted from taking her husband out on an incredible date back to little sister who had gone through a lot of pain, and growth away from her surrogate mother. She stood and engulfed Kasumi in a bear hug. Amidst tears, she squeaked out, "It's great to see you, big sister. I, I'm not Akane, the Akane I was, I don't know."

Kasumi hugged her little sister back, "It's okay, Akane-chan. It seems you two have things, worked out now little sister." The last thoughts brought a bright flush to her face as Kasumi glanced at Ranma for a moment. She hoped the egotistical, gender challenged martial artist wasn't a bad influence on little Akane. At least the two were married. Though their behavior tonight was strange and inappropriate. Or was it just Modern? On the other hand, their deep love was obvious. A niece or nephew would be nice.

In the end, Akane was an adult now, twenty years or not. Though she would always be little sister, and might need reassurance from time to time.

While the reunited sisters embraced, the two remaining women talked.

Nabiki had a very real feeling for what the problem had been, far different from anything Kasumi could imagine. Heck, Nabiki couldn't imagine it herself. It just was.

Ranma stood, thought for a moment, then shook her head. Hugging other girls was now an accepted part of life. At least when she was a girl and especially Terra. But that wasn't at all appealing here. The slightly taller redhead looked down at Nabiki. Supremely pleased at this result of her growth spurt. But, a couple centimeters couldn't overcome the palpable unease the she felt around 'The Wedding Destroyer'. "So, Nabiki-san, umm. Good to see you."

Nabiki shrugged her shoulders, "You too, Saotome. You taking good care of my little sister?"

Ranma shrugged her own shoulders, "Actually, yeah. We're actually takin' real good care of each other. We just had a hard month, though. How's school goin' for you?"

Nabiki pasted on a smile on as she regarded her brother-in law. She noticed a fine chain around the redhead's neck, with a two centimeter Earth symbol hanging from it. Cute, she thought to herself. Suppositions were getting much closer to facts here. Should she go fishing in a public cafe? Maybe she could at least toss out some some chum and see what came up. "Actually, a classmate and myself have started a video project this semester. Since we're in Juuban, we decided to try Senshi chasing." She tried not looking too intent as she scanned the, slightly, taller woman for a reaction.

Ranma was almost beside herself. What to do? She'd felt the intensity of Nabiki's gaze earlier and thought of the little necklace and charm Michiru'd given her on a whim. A cute little token of what she was and had been. But, heck, every girl was a daughter of Terra. All three of them had laughed, realizing it would just be taken as another charm a girl might wear. Akane hadn't even noticed it. Nabiki wasn't one to miss things like that, though. The redhead's hands almost instinctively went to the charm, then stopped halfway. But what had Akane's sister seen? And where? What should she do now? Divert attention from her slip. Ranma shrugged her shoulders, "Yeah, those Sailor Senshi do hang out here, I guess. But they're just girls. Anyways... did ya get any yet?"

A strike! The middle Tendou smirked inwardly, poker face intact. Ranma was still no card player. Actually, she was the best kind. She thought she was one. Time to go all in. Nabiki's expression became absolutely serious, "Let's put it this way, Saotome. I'd like to invite you and Akane to my apartment, after we walk Kasumi back to the train."

Ranma nodded, realizing her error. She wondered what Nabiki really knew. Well, at least something good could come from this. But she doubted ice cream could really make this situation better. But a better mood was at least a start. "Okay, Tendou. Anyway, I'd like to at least eat the ice cream first."

Nabiki bowed in response, "Sounds good. And if we hurry we can get it all before Akane and Kasumi finish their little love fest."

Intrigued by the prospect of having more for herself proved a bit too much for Ranma as she sat down and tried some. It really was good. She set her spoon down and looked up at her sister-in-law. Nabiki wore her best saccharine smile - smug, sweet, and syrupy. "Thanks, it's great. Chocolate and coffee. Nice combination."

Nabiki nodded as she took one of the empty seats. Her smile flowed to a more genuine grin. "Yeah. That's why I like this place, really. I just don't tell Akane or Kasumi. They actually make and freeze it here, you know. Same thing at the branch in Nerima," She added with a conspiratorial wink.

A new bond forged of ice cream warred in Ranma's head with Nabiki's less-than-sterling reputation. But the problems had mostly been in High School. In fact, other than occasional loan offers, Nabiki had calmed down a lot in her first college year. Though it did help that Nabiki was two trains away, at least until she and Akane moved in two blocks down the street.

Nabiki took advantage of her brother-in-law's preoccupation to scoop more ice cream into her own mouth. She would never match Ranma's speed, but this lull in the redhead's vacuum session would mean more for her. And it was sooo good.

Eventually all four girls joined in and soon four spoons were left in the empty glass dish.

(((())))

Nabiki opened the door to her studio, then held it for her sister and sister-in-law, at least for now. Akane had slung her shoes over her shoulder by their straps halfway to the train station, pulling marital arts slippers from her purse. She'd been Ranma's height for the date, but would be 'just' Akane for the rest of the night. So, in the small apartment's vestibule the married girls removed their martial arts slippers. Nabiki followed suit with her low rise heels. Akane dropped her own heels next to her sister's more modest pair with a thud.

Nabiki waved her guests to sit on her folded futon while she gathered a couple accordion stacks of paper and a video tape. Facing the two attentive girls, she began. "Okay. First let me say a couple of things. This tape," She held up the black cassette, "Is a second generation dub of an edited tape. The originals." She gave a dismissive wave before continuing, "Heck I'm not going to bore you guys to tears. Let me just say that originals and copies of everything are in two safe deposit boxes."

Ranma asked a question for both her and Akane, "Umm. Okay. Why do we need to know this?"

Nabiki smirked as she responded. "That's easy. So you won't destroy these copies, or my editing bay, after you see what's on them."

Akane was getting angry, Ranma squeezed her wife's hand, hoping to calm her. "Safe deposit boxes? So you want to blackmail us, Nabiki?" Still angry, hurt announced itself on her face as she continued, "And to think! I actually bought that bull about you cleaning up your act."

"Yeah," Ranma added. "We're just poor college, dropouts now. We got no money or nothing. Now that ya can't ruin more weddings, do ya just wanna ruin our lives now?"

Nabiki composed herself before speaking. "This isn't about money or blackmail. Or ruining anything. It's about letting you know what I know and think."

Both guests felt and heard Nabiki's earnestness. There was no sugar on the syllables. She wasn't playing snide swindler they'd seen previously. But was she still playing them like she always had before?

Noticing both girls' intent expressions gave Nabiki pause. Ranma and Akane... could fluster her? No, she was just on unfamiliar ground here, but should it have been? Nabiki hoped the two would clue in enough to notice she was serious and trust her intentions. But 'trust' was just another thing she'd abused terribly with both the listeners. It had become an empty word, a concept meaningless except as a tool. Useful only as long as her mark trusted her. At least in high school she had been the girl who cried 'trust!' so many times, it became a sad joke's punchline.

But living truly alone in another district, realizing she was just another formerly big fish in a huge lake, pending adulthood and the specter of accountability... had all affected her. She had changed, grown up, finally come to terms with Mother's death, hadn't she? Would her life have been that much worse without the manga and burgers High School's disposable income brought? Had she disposed of the bulk of her soul chasing transitory pleasures? Maybe she had, but growing maturity revealed her loss. She was slowly rebuilding herself. Trying to heal. She had to bring Ranma and Akane into her circle for the bulk of that reclamation. Tonight she was taking a huge, scary step. She hoped her visitors would understand. But those two were not the most observant, it took them well over a year to recognize their strong feelings were love.

The older girl took a breath and continued. "And, if you want, you can help fill in blanks. Or keep me in the dark. But it might be better it I know instead of guess. And this information doesn't go anywhere beyond here. Because I really don't want anyone else to know. I'm not going to stick my neck out by going public, either."

Without further comment she handed a transcript to Ranma and one to Akane. Turning to face the TV, she inserted the tape in her playback deck, hitting 'Play'. She dragged a folding chair to an opposed corner, watching Ranma and Akane from a distance, the television not even in her view. She was almost sick of the edited version, and knew it intimately. From the glitch at forty three seconds to the appearance of Happosai at the end. Like a lass years younger, she put her hopes in the hands of two magical girls.

(((())))

Rewind's whine had stopped. Nabiki pushed 'Eject' and put the tape back in its case. She turned to look at her sister and brother-in law. They were seated hip to hip on the futon. Ranma's jacket was in her lap. Each woman had left an arm around her partner's back, grasping the other's waist. Their free arms crossed their bodies to meet in tightly clasped hands between their laps. They stared at the gray sparkling television screen until it went solid gray when Nabiki pushed the power button.

She couldn't make out the whispered comments they had shared during the presentation, but saw smiles and tears as the record unfolded.

Akane whispered to Ranma, who nodded. Nabiki's little sister spoke, "Yeah, that was us. I never got to see Ranma fight that day and."

Ranma interrupted, "I never saw Akane confront Pluto about my curse. Or see again how much she loves me." Her lip quivered at the end. She regained composure and continued, "Thanks for keeping this quiet, Nabiki. And thanks for showing us too."

Nabiki shrugged, "I sort of had to, on both accounts. Like I said, I've got my own safety to consider. And I realized if you two were there that you'd each get to see a lot you'd missed. But, the one thing that bugs me is this: why did Ranma decide to run around with a sailor suit?"

Ranma whispered with Akane again. Akane looked at her sister, dead serious, "Do you want to know, really? If I tell." She looked at her husband, "If we tell you, there are no jokes, mentions or anything else to anyone but us."

Folding her hands in front of her, Nabiki responded. "Look, I have to live with knowing and not knowing. I saw a monster come a hair's breadth from killing my brother in law. I saw my little sister having to deal with her husband lying unconscious in a pool of her own blood. It would be tragic if I saw it on TV. But I know the people involved. I owe the people involved. So, yeah, I'd like to know. There's no reason for anybody else to know. I mean, what would Kasumi say? Daddy would just cry." She turned to look at her brother in law, "And I have no idea what Ranma's folks would do. And don't want to find out either. No offense Ranma." Concluding, she shrugged and tried on a proto-smirk for her brother-in-law.

Ranma shrugged back, "Thanks, but don't ask me. I mean, I love 'em, don't get me wrong. I just don't understand 'em. I already know you're not gonna tell 'em. 'Cause it wouldn't do you any good. But, okay, we'll tell ya, so buckle in for a wild ride."

(((())))

When the two had finished, Nabiki could say only one thing, "Wow."

Akane shook her head affirmatively, "That's a good way to sum it up. Just imagine the two of us living it. I'm just glad someone I know, in this life, knows. I love my little sister, and her family. And I really like Ranma's big brother and his girl friend. Still, you know me this life. You even know Ranma better than they do, this life. So, I'm glad you know."

Ranma shook her head in agreement. "Still goin' Senshi chasing?"

Nabiki nodded, "Actualy I have tried to follow this rash of demon attacks, but usually get there too late."

Ranma shrugged as she spoke, "They're wimps I heard. Akane and me are about ready to help take care of 'em for good though."

Akane nodded with an almost feral smile. "Wimps, yeah, but little sister said they just keep coming."

Nabiki also wanted photos of the her sister and her sister's husband. Nabiki looked a little guilty, "I was wondering, since you guys are here, could you."

The doorbell rang.

Nabiki looked puzzled, then rolled her eyes. "Probably another last minute invite to a party."

"You're a party animal, Nabiki-chan?" Akane taunted with a smile.

"Go get'em!" Ranma laughingly encouraged.

Nabiki turned, "Okay, I'll go if you two do. Nothing more fun a bunch of drunken, underage, college kids. Mostly guys. Heck, Ranma-chan you'd be the life of the party. And if things get out of hand, Akane can summon that staff of hers and you two can go nerd-golfing."

Waving hands in front of their faces, Ranma and Akane warded off evil party spirits in unison.

"Ha! Chicken!" Nabiki said with a smirk and a victory sign as she jerked the door open. "Not tonight, I have a headache!" She shouted to the top of a girl's head. Then she looked down.

A short blonde with a bizarre hairdo responded, "Um, okay. Have you tried aspirin?" She pulled an eyelid down and released it before continuing, "But I would like to talk to Ranma and Akane if they're here. It's really really really important."

Maybe she'd gotten too carried away. Chastened, Nabiki turned to the still seated couple. "It's for you two." Why or how this girl would know where Ranma and Akane were was a question for another time. Or was it? Turning back to the girl, she bowed. "Sorry, I thought you were coming to invite me to a party." A shout and loud laughter from a nearby room punctuated the sentence. Nabiki shrugged her shoulders, "I am curious how you found those two here, however. Would you like to come in?"

The girl paused for a moment, worry crossing her brow for an instant. She smiled and shook her head, "Umm. Okay." She stuck out a hand. "I'm Usagi."

Nabiki took the hand, giving a firm shake "Nabiki. Akane's big sister."

Usagi bowed, "Nice to meet you."

Nabiki bowed in response, "Nice to meet you, too."

Ranma had her jacket back on. She and Akane had walked the short distance to the entranceway.

Nabiki thought quickly. She had wanted to take a couple of pictures. Could I just snap some pix of you two? I can't imagine Ranma getting all tough girled up again for a while. She ran back to her editing station, snagging her old camera off a hook. "Over here please!" Nabiki requested as she pulled a backdrop down.

Ranma looked at Akane, "You want this?"

Akane flushed, "As much as wedding pictures, actually. And I bet her prices will be good this time too. You?" She asked her partner as concern crossed Akane's expression.

Ranma smiled, "Yeah Akane. This was a special night. I'm not hidin'. Or hidin' from this part a our marriage ever again."

They grabbed their shoes and, Akane at least, clomped over to the abstract sky blue and white image.

"Okay, let's see. Ranma, behind Akane, hand around her waist. Come on, girl.. she's yours! Let the camera know. Yeah, that's it. Okay, switch. Same thing, Ranma's... All right, there's my Akane. Now face each other, aw geez... where's that passion I saw at the cafe? Hokay, there it is. Look over here at me now. 'kay. Got some good ones." She checked her watch. Shortest shoot ever, 45 seconds."

Ranma shook her head, "Let's not get carried away here. Shortest shoot? Not even close Nabki, um, chan. You got plenty a shots a me asleep with my chest hangin' out or Akane breakin' somethin' that didn't even take near that long. Akane woulda busted your camera if she caught ya!"

Akane made a fist and hit Ranma's shoulder. "Baka! You would've too." She said, smiling.

Nabiki looked down. "Yeah I did, you two would've... and I'm sorry." She looked up, encompassing the couple in her gaze. "Both of you. Really. I kept the prints that were decent." She looked up a little disapprovingly at Ranma. Tears looked really odd on, her, face.

"Hey, Nabiki!" Ranma retorted defensively. "I wear a bra now. 'Cept when I'm in bed." She nodded toward the Princess, "Usagi here sorta convinced me one day."

Usagi nodded, flushing furiously.

Nabiki blinked, wondering if the sky would be purple tomorrow, "Good, Ranma-chan. That was a long time coming."

"Too long." Akane and Ranma chorused, before blushing and turning away from each other.

Usagi had to grin at the two unexpected additions to their group. Her reason for coming sucked the smile off her suddenly ashen face.

Nabiki deigned to smile, but still had to finish. "Those photos. They're in the safe deposit box too. But I burned all the negatives. And I'll burn the rest too, but only if you two watch. Unless you want some of them." She looked a bit wistful, "Some are cute. But, right now, If I get too far ahead of myself, too focused on the destination and not the path. I remember them. I reflect on just how far I fell. And who I hurt and took advantage of just for manga and hamburgers, all long gone."

Ranma was feeling this might have moved Nabiki into hug territory. She looked at her partner, seeing a secret smile and nod of agreement just for her.

Nabiki was surrounded by the taller couple, feeling not anger, but a strong, supportive hug. Maybe she wasn't alone anymore in her quest.

The three visitors gathered in Nabiki's doorway to say their goodbyes.

Three young men about their ages ran up the stairs carrying an overstuffed paper bag. The college students took in the sight of their amazing good fortune as Akane and Ranma took their battle stances.

The tallest of the three spoke. He was close to Mamoru's height and all three were considerably taller than Ranma. He spoke in a smooth voice, "Hey girls!" He pointed at the four. "Babes," then to the bag, "brews," then he pointed up the stairs, "237B".

Akane and Ranma cracked their knuckles, with Ranma replying first, "Broken," She handed off to Akane.

"Bones. Right here." Akane added, flaring her battle aura.

"Come get some!" Ranma finished for her wife, flaring her own battle aura and summoning just a teeny tiny ball of chi between her outstretched hands.

The shortest of the three shouted quickly, "No, that's okay, really!" He took off up the stairs.

The tallest one continued, "Have a nice night um, girls." before the other two followed their fleeing compatriot.

A few seconds later, conversation could be heard, "Man, I've heard of too much trouble, but that was ridiculous." "What a waste too, all four of 'em were sizzlin'." "At least I was able to get us the beer, thanks to my cousin." "Yeah, I'm gonna need some." "Me too." "And me. Hope he got us enough."

Ranma looked seriously first at her companions as a group, then focused on Akane. "If any of us feels down about her looks, just remember. We're sizzlin'." She pointed to her chest as she continued, "And that's one thing those jerks were right about, I should know!"

All four laughed as Akane squeezed her husband's hand. She was uncute, but sizzlin'.

Nabiki smiled again, "Thanks to you guys, maybe my party problems are done for good."

"Aww. C'mon Nabki. They seemed to be a nice bunch a guys. And they had, beer." Ranma concluded with her cutest smile.

"Broken. Bones." Akane replied, almost under her breath.

Ranma half heartedly waved her hands in front of herself in mock defense. "Just kiddin, Akane, geez."

Akane replied by sticking out her her tongue at her husband. But she couldn't keep from giggling too long. Point to her, though.

After taking a couple steps down the stairs, the trio of girls turned to wave to their hostess before continuing to the street level.

Engrossed in thought, Nabiki closed the door. She was doing what she had to here. What an adult with a bright, or any, future had to. But maybe she could get her family back too.

(((())))

Outside the apartment building, Usagi turned and signaled her boyfriend to join them. She took a little book out of her purse, jotting a note down while she waited. She looked up at him while returning the notebook. "Sorry it took so long, Mamo-chan. But I think I accidentally interrupted something pretty important." She zipped her purse closed again.

Mamoru bowed deeply to his sister, "I didn't contact you Ranma, but I did use our link. Knowing your feelings on being Senshi right now, I didn't want to get you two involved in this mess at all. Usako was insistent about finding you guys. And..."

Mamoru's sister interrupted, "She's the Princess, after all." She looked at Akane for a moment.

Akane spoke up, "We understand, really."

Mamoru's sister continued, drawing Akane closer. "So does she... Usagi. So we know it's important." Ranma replied.

"Thanks, you live about two blocks from here, right? Let's talk at your place." Mamoru suggested with a hopeful look.

"Sure, and no matter what you two have to tell us, Akane and my, and maybe Usagi's lives just got more complicated." Ranma replied with a smile after checking for Akane's nod.

Usagi shrugged her shoulders, "Not sure how. It was just a paper bag full of beer. And you two chased those losers off. Now that was fun."

Ranma laughed, then shook her head, "It was more what you walked in on, Princess. We'll tell ya when we get home."

(((())))

Mamoru and Usagi took seats on the two chairs by the study desk.

First, Ranma and Akane told the whole story about how Nabiki found out their Senshi identities. After that, Ranma put a mug of water in the microwave. then swapped her skirt and boyshorts for much more comfortable boxers and pants. Male again, Ranma sat next to his wife on their futon facing their guests.

Usagi bowed her head for a moment then smiled, trying to encompass the couple in her gaze. "Anyways, I understand how you two feel, Akane and Ranma. I want both of you to know that I still consider you inactive Senshi. We will not come to you with any requests for your help. Unless the two of you change your status personally with me. On the other hand, I still consider you my Senshi."

Usagi silenced two pending denials with a raised finger, then continued. "I know, Ranma and Akane. But, I'll still look out for you two because I care for, and love, all my, the Senshi. Active or not. 'Mine' or not. In fact, I came to you because at a meeting that as supposedly called to combat the demonic invasion. All the, other, Senshi had gathered together."

(((())))

A half hour earlier, as Ranma and Akane watched Nabiki's video...

It had taken a while for all nine Sailor Senshi to assemble for the meeting.

Usagi spoke first, "Okay, looks like everybody's here. Let's start."

Setsuna looked distressed, "Not quite yet, Usagi-chan. Not everyone is here." She put on a weak smile, "We can't forget our new teammates, can we? Where are the Saotomes?"

Usagi answered her advisor with a stern gaze she didn't use often, "Setsuna-san, as you recall the Saotomes are on inactive status. They of course have an open invitation to attend, as do all my Senshi. But it is strictly their choice. I gave my word as Princess I would not ask them to come anymore."

Setsuna looked at Hotaru, "Didn't you call Akane-san, Hotaru-chan?"

Hotaru shrugged and answered, "Yes, Setsuna-mama. Nobody was home there." She had a good idea where they had started out to, but they probably were someplace else by now. So she could truthfully say 'I don't know' even if one of her mamas asked.

Setsuna persisted, "Could you call them again, Hotaru-chan?"

"I guess so... Rei?" Hotaru asked as she rose.

Rei took her inside for a moment.

Usagi focused again on Setsuna, "Setsuna-san, why do Senshi whom We declared inactive need to be here?" Her tone and bearing left no doubt the 'We' was royal.

Unmoved, Setsuna sat stone faced.

Hotaru and Rei returned, with Hotaru speaking, "Still no answer."

Usagi turned to the larger group. "Okay. Now that that's settled, let's do this with the team we've had for years."

Setsuna rose, "We cannot continue without the Saotomes."

Usagi walked to less than a half meter from Setsuna. Looking up to face her advisor, she spoke with both tone and volume rarely used, "I gave my word as Princess they would not have to come anymore. My word is why my Senshi, including you, trust and follow me. They know that it won't change. It's a constant they can count on. What demon needs a married couple to fight after I, their Princess, assured them they could stand down?"

Setsuna bit off three words, "They. Are. Needed."

Usagi spoke with a chill none present had ever heard, "Rarely has one of my Senshi behaved in this manner, Pluto."

The Princess turned to address the others. Adjusting her voice to normal levels, Usagi searched for what cordiality as she could muster against the cold, "Could you guys please wait outside for a few? And, shut the door, okay?"

After the other Senshi had left, Usagi turned again to Setsuna. She continued in a warm, comforting tone. "Okay, now can you talk to me, advisor? Please tell me why I've got to go back on my promise?"

Setsuna carefully picked her words, "There is much at stake with this operation. If you can. If you will bring them here, I will tell you all you need to know."

Warmth evaporated, an icy Princess continued, "I'll forget you commanded me. This one time. But I'll see if I can get them to come... Though I won't ask them to. One more question, Pluto. Does the true operation here have anything to do with the demon attacks?"

Setsuna swallowed, feeling incredibly vulnerable. Usagi was a formidable opponent, truly worthy of her station. But these were special circumstances. the advisor bowed, "Princess, respectfully... I really cannot tell you more."

The Princess stroked her chin for a moment, before responding, "I will not. Ask. Them. I will report all that was said here. Adding my own warnings and concerns, of course. I look out for, and love all my Senshi after all. I guess some of us don't." She paused for a moment, "Good day, advisor." She finished coldly.

With a precise turn the Princess strode boldly from the room, leaving Setsuna alone. A familiar condition, terrifying in the present tension.

(((())))

Usagi was in tears as she continued, "Before you say anything else, I've gotta say I just came to warn you. I'm not asking you to come to the meeting. Just telling you that Pluto expects you. And that I'm scared for you two too."

Akane looked to Ranma, who spoke, "Well, I guess we'll see what Pluto's gotta say here. Glad we got a chance to react and prepare instead a gettin' jumped by her." He turned to face Usagi. "Princess, I see why your Senshi follow you." Thinking of ancient protocols, he knelt and bowed as he continued, "I would be honored to work with you as Terra again." Standing again, taking the few steps back, Ranma continued, "Thanks for standin' up for us against that, witch. It's good to know you've got our backs here."

Akane moved to stand beside her husband. "The Saturn Knight will always be at Terra's side..." She walked to her princess and knelt as her husband had bowing as she spoke, "and yours." Standing, seeing Usagi still tearful, Akane opened her arms wide.

Usagi stood and accepted the taller woman's embrace.

Ranma shook his head and went to get some water. A few seconds later the two were enfolded by an even taller woman's arms as Ranma added hers. Usagi cried the anger, concern, and stress out of her system.

Mamoru regarded the trio. His brother not only straddled two worlds, which they all did, but also two genders. He thought of Kanma for a moment. Like her husband, Akane did too. No matter how the two got there, he was happy to see both of them supporting his Usako. Despite, or because of their birth. Then, and now.

Ranma, then Akane, broke the hug. The midnight blue haired girl addressed her Princess, "You alright?"

Usagi pasted on a smile and nodded.

Ranma turned to her wife, "We've gotta get ready, Akane." She looked thoughtful for a few moments. "Let's get you dressed to kick some ass, okay?"

Akane nodded, "Um, I know you just got 'em, but could I borrow that jacket, and skirt? And maybe your stockings? And your necklace?"

Ranma laughed, then nodded back, "Sure. I don't think I'll need 'em for a long while." She looked thoughtful, "Got a black blouse?"

"Yeah, I know just the one." Akane smiled, pulling a shiny blouse from the bureau.

" Ewww, your boots are girly." Ranma teased. But still, nothing really said 'I'm tough' in the entire collection as she tossed a floppy brown left boot back with its mate.

Akane laughed, "and Terra's aren't?" She crossed her arms, and nodded firmly with a sharp exhale. Waiting to see her redhead wriggle out of this one.

Ranma shrugged, "Actually, no. They have flat soles that grip nicely. Not high heels."

"Touche, 'Terra'." And, Ranma had scored. At least that time. Akane turned a bit red, "I would say my knight's uniform isn't girly... but that might not count."

"Actually, it kinda does. Yeah, it ain't girly. But you look really sexy in that armor Akane. Somethin' about shiny metal and a woman's curves." Ranma bit back 'even yours'. She was learning.

Akane blushed at the complement, "Well, I am a girl, at least this life. I kinda like my boots, girly or not. But I thought the martial arts slippers and the stockings looked great on you."

"Well, that was me." Oops... old habits died hard for Ranma. Being nice about looks was still challenging. But so anything was that wasn't martial arts.

Akane was a little miffed, but not angry, yet. Clenched fists at her side would do for now. "And I thought I was sizzlin'"

Man this was tough. A victory one sentence. A loss the next. Ranma looked contrite as she spoke, " You are... and you will be with my stockings, skirt, necklace and jacket. I guess I can't even pull your leg about your looks, huh?" The redhead looked a little disappointed. Not good enough. Time to raise this a notch. She brought out... the puppy dog eyes. A few crocodile tears shimmering, and she was ready.

Akane shook her head no, "Nope. At least not yet." She punctuated the sentence with her index finger a couple threatening millimeters from Ranma's comically cute countenance. Akane stood firm, unfazed by her husband's cunning counter.

Looked like Akane had her outfit. Ranma blinked away the tears, then spoke to her wife,."Guess ya can get dressed now. I'll grab hot water, a red bra, and one a my red shirts. Then I'll take Mamoru and the Princess outside t' wait for your debut. Or maybe..." She turned to Usagi, "Wanna stay with Akane and call Rei's temple, Princess?"

Usagi nodded.

"Thats fine with me, Ranma," Akane answered, glad to spend a few minutes getting to know a girl that was never in his social circle, back in the day.

Only thirty seconds later, Ranma was dressed in his trademark red shirt again. Akane embraced her husband.

"Nice to see your best side at its best." She almost sighed, basking the warm strength of arms that would always feel stronger and safer to her.

Ranma gave his wife a quick kiss, "And lets see that tomboy hit a new high today. We've gotta go turn a smirk inside out."

What might happen finally hit Usagi. Worried tears marred her face as she spoke, "I just can't imagine Senshi fighting each other."

Akane shrugged out of her husband's hug to go to her Princess, "Don't worry, Princess." She held up the Terran pendant on Ranma's necklace. I'm going as Akane. I was born on Terra, this life. I'm not going as Akane, the Saturn Knight."

Ranma nodded, "Yeah, after all, who did Setsuna ask for? Saotomes. Me and Akane are gonna give her more Saotomes than she can handle. Two Saotomes beats one Meiou... whatever the heck that is."

Usagi brushed aside tears then shook her head 'no', "Still, Senshi fighting, it hurts to even think about it."

Ranma felt his heart lurch. Seeing the Princess cry. Making her cry. He tried to mix contrition and confidence in his response, coming pretty close as he replied. "Look, Princess. Fightin's the last resort here. Whether I'm your Senshi or not, It tears me up to see you cry on account a me n' Akane. We're gonna make an entrance and confront her. I sorta think of this as a sparring session. I don't wanna hurt her... too much."

Akane elbowed her husband. Hard.

Reactions carefully schooled, Ranma shrugged, "Okay... I don't wanna hurt her. But if it comes to fightin' we need to show her it's two against one and she can't win. Then we can just talk, eye to eye." Ranma kissed his wife on the cheek. "Get ready, Akane. Me and Mamoru'll wait outside.

Ranma opened the door for his big brother, then closed it in their wake.

Akane walked back to the stack of clothes, then turned to Usagi. "Feeling any better, Princess?"

While Akane stretched Ranma's stockings up over her knees and a bit beyond. The slit on the chenogasm made it easy. Usagi tried for a smile, coming pretty close. "Yes, thanks. I'm sorry, Akane. Things like this haven't happened... much."

Akane nodded, wriggling out of the dress she'd worn for the date, "I've heard the Inner Senshi and Outers have had some confrontations. But, if it came to Hotaru versus you... I'm not sure how I'd stand, to be honest."

Usagi talked to the floor as Akane buttoned up her black blouse, "Well, is one 'right' better than another? After all, usually, we work together. And we always have the same goal... we just see it differently sometimes. Akane, just don't be afraid to listen to your heart, ever."

Akane nodded as she pulled the skirt up, then zipped it closed. She slipped into Ranma's jacket last. She walked over to her Princess, "So how do I look?"

Usagi nodded appreciatively, "Nice." The Moon Princess gently grasped the taller girl's shoulders. She looked up into Akane's eyes with a strong and steady gaze, tears forgotten. "I'm on your side here. So. I want you two to kick her ass. Just not too hard, okay?"

Akane nodded, then smiled. "Okay, Princess... Okay."

Looking flustered, Usagi suddenly dropped her arms to her side. "Oh! I said I was going to call Rei at the temple."

Akane chucked, "So do it, Princess. We can wait for a minute or two more."

Usagi nodded, "You're right. Thanks."

(((())))

Rei returned to the courtyard after answering the phone, "They're coming."

Setsuna nodded, "Good."

Rei took her place with her Inner Senshi peers to the left of the gate. There was a wide gap between them and Hotaru, Michiru, and Haruka on the right. Setsuna knelt in contemplation between the two groups, farthest from the entryway.

Mamoru and Usagi walked up the steps. Entering the courtyard, they stopped.

Usagi looked up at her Prince. "Mamo-chan, maybe you could stand with the Outer Senshi. That way we can show we're not taking sides here."

Worry crossed Mamoru's brow for moment, "But... Actually, that might be for the best. You will only be a few steps away and I think Ranma and Akane would appreciate it."

Usagi nodded, "Yeah, I thought so too." She got on her tiptoes, Mamoru dipped a little, and she planted a kiss on his cheek. The Prince of Earth and Moon Princess went their separate ways.

Ranma and Akane appeared at the base of the stairs, starting the climb to the courtyard. Deliberate and purposeful steps marked their passage. Finally they reached the incline's apex, and the courtyard's entrance.

Akane looked up at her husband, who locked his eyes on hers. Ranma nodded, answered by his wife's bow. Akane focused on Pluto as she summoned, "Mjolnir!" At her command, the staff with the menacing hammer head he had forged so long ago materialized in her outstretched right hand.

All the courtyard's occupants turned at the summoning.

Raising her staff a half meter, Akane called her storm shield, "Kataigida Aspis!" With a clap of thunder, lightning was called to encircle its mistress in protection.

Ami and Minako blinked at memories of a long dead Third Circle mage. Rei grinned, glad to see Akane getting her power back. Makoto smiled broadly, giving Akane a thumbs up.

On the 'Visitor's' side, Michiru and Haruka nodded acknowledgment, pleased to see Akane wearing clothing they picked out with Ranma. The date must have gone well. Hotaru smiled broadly, unable to hide her pride.

Usagi and Mamoru watched impassively, carefully walking the center line, befitting their public show of neutrality.

Akane caught appreciation in her peripheral vision, but did not even flinch in acknowledgment. Her focus remained Setsuna.

Usagi cleared her throat and spoke. "Setsuna, I informed the Saotomes that you requested their presence. Despite my misgivings and council, they have decided to attend this meeting."

Setsuna rose from meditation and bowed to her Princess, "Thank you, Princess." She turned to Rama and Akane, "Would you like to come closer, I assure you nobody bites... including me."

I'd sure argue that one. Ranma sent to Mamoru.

Akane inclined her head toward Mamoru's position with the Outher Senshi. Ranma nodded. The pair walked purposefully to the new location, Ranma flanking his brother on the right. Anane flanking her husband. Hotaru hurried to Akane's right side.

Setsuna bowed, "Thank you, Ranma and Akane."

The pair's focus remained on Setsuna, but offered her no other acknowledgment.

Unbowed, Setsuna continued, "As we are all painfully aware, a steady stream of demonic attacks are originating from a portal I located in an abandoned warehouse. I propose a small strike team investigate the portal to stop the invasion."

Ranma decided it was time to finally open his mouth. They made their entrance, and they had lots of support. He took a breath. No need to yell. Yet. "Just looking around here I see..." he counted on his fingers as he spoke, "Jupiter, Uranus, Neptune, Mars and the most powerful Sailor of all, Saturn. Why the heck do me and my wife need to be here? I mean Akane's a good martial artist, and I'm the best. But, as Terra I ain't nothing without another Sailor, if I'm even gonna be one."

Minako turned to the couple as she took her turn, "Saotome-san, If you went as Terra, you wouldn't be alone, so your Mimic would work fine."

With the silence officially broken, Akane spoke next. She'd try to play nice-nice. "Meiou-sensei, the counselor you helped us contact has been wonderful. Ranma and I are doing a lot better."

She waited for, and received a slight bow from Setsuna.

After a slight bow of her own, Akane continued. "But, like Ranma, I'm also troubled by you making Ranma and I come here. We're only just getting well again. Like my husband said, there are much more powerful Sailor Senshi here than either of us who are ready to do this."

Ami swallowed then spoke, "I think I will need to go, so I can figure out how to close the portal."

Ranma nodded, "That sounds like a great idea. If you have Jupiter and Mars backing you up, you three should be fine."

Ranma looked to both the girls he had mentioned, seeing the cautious assent he expected.

Setsuna realized she had to step in sometime, "I need to go as well, the portal is... disrupting my abilities."

Ranma smiled broadly, "Even better. Setsuna did provide the straw that broke the demon's back, after I got it almost dead. See? Ya don't need me and Akane."

Setsuna considered things for a moment. Ranma had a host of valid points and judging Rei and Makoto's reactions had on the spur of the moment thrown together a stronger team than the one that had to go. But who really had to go? Maybe she could goad him into it. "So, you're saying Jupiter and Mars are better than you? Really? "

Ranma almost laughed, "Yeah, that's what I said. You deaf or somethn'?" Ranma waved dismissively as he continued. "You gotta do better than that t' get my goat these days. Here's a question for ya. When Michiru got cursed, Haruka told ya about it. You were scared I would be cured. Why?"

Setsuna stared straight ahead. Way too much to lose there. But was there something to be gained?

Ranma shrugged, "Figures. Here's a couple more, just for you. You told Haruka the reason I need to 'stay' cursed didn't concern her. Does it concern me? Does it concern my wife? Finally, tell me why I shouldn't hand you your rear end right now?"

Setsuna was worried. She'd already said too much. Why had she told Haruka anything, especially considering Akane's budding relationship with Hotaru? But then, didn't that just prove what 'Diktor' had said?

Having had enough of talking, Ranma squeezed his wife's hand, nodding at Setsuna.

Akane raised Mjolnir and refreshed her lightning shield.

The two martial artists advanced at a strong, slow pace. Like they owned the place. Since Grandfather Hino and Rei lived there, they were protecting their family. Well into Setsuna's personal space, they stopped.

Realizing that actions speak louder than words, Setsuna flipped backward five meters to get some separation. She got some cover leaping another three meters behind the low wall of a dry landscape garden. She knelt for a few seconds.

Ramna smiled, as he leapt five meters forward to Setsuna's old location. Akane followed suit, landing at Ranma's side. He shook his head, he'd never guessed Setsuna knew the Art. But then, he'd never really known her this life. And she really couldn't judge stuff like that as Akana.

Setsuna bowed to Ranma, standing with both hands full of pebbles. She turned slightly to toss them at Akane, the shield stopped most of them in around a hundred small explosions that added up to an impressive light show.

Ignoring the impact of twenty or so stones on her midsection, Akane refreshed her shield, shouting "Kataigida Aspis!"

Ranma folded his arms and watched his wife with pride. He would let her go one one one with Meiou for a while. Setsuna led Akane in a circular dance as Pluto's avatar would overload the shield, then leap and turn to draw Akane to a new position. But Ranma's wife was edging toward her opponent, closing range each time. This would be over soon.

Setsuna smiled, almost ready. As Akane summoned another new shield, Setsuna looked inward and composed herself.

Akane blinked for a second, then hopped to close the gap.

Setsuna's fist shot out toward Akane as she shouted, "Hiryu Shouten Ha!"

Akane's eyes opened wide. She knew this technique, Ranma's strongest. She braced herself and held tight to Mjolnir with both hands as it hit. Her shield protected her from injury, but she was still thrown ten meters into the air and twenty back. While flying over the heads of the assembled Senshi, Akane shouted, "Teró pou!" Akane began to fall slowly, thanks the the 'Feather Falling' spell she had cast.

"Akane!" Rama shouted as he ran to his slowly descending wife.

Back at the steps again, Ranma and Akane turned to look at Setsuna in complete shock.

"My mother taught me that," Setsuna said, loud enough to be clearly heard even at the entryway. Time's avatar rotated her right hand to glance at her palm, then back again. Her hand was still there. She was still there. The world was still there. Maybe she could be the daughter she was raised to be and still do... what she had to. But then, she had already told herself that.

(((())))

(End)

"Many Meetings" v 5.8

Kevin D. Hammel December 6, 2013

First, my sincere thanks for reading, I know it's been a while.

Many thanks to pre-readers and correspondents: Mike Koos, Richard Ryley, Sunshine Temple, Tuatara. Frice2000 and Uragaaru gave extensive C&C on fukufics dot com. I could not address every point, but certainly did many of them.

On fanfiction dot net, Kara Ohki gave excellent technical C&C, catching some typos I didn't. Compulces made some suggestions on Akane's hair color as well.

Last time I quoted the first line of "Lines of Destiny" Chapter 1. This time I expanded on the very last published last line of "Lines of Destiny", at the end of Chapter 12:

The other Senshi and Tuxedo Kamen could only stare in shock at Pluto's actions, and on the second floor, two people filmed the scene with interest.